Memorial Day is a time for remembrance. Many think of the ones who have died in combat, but a forgotten group is the Missing In Action. On this solemn day Americans should think about those who never came home, with their families left in limbo. Thankfully, there is one group whose sole purpose is to account for the ones who fought for this country, but never returned home. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency's mission is to find many of the missing from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Congressman Mark Walker (R-NC) told American Thinker of his desire to make sure these men and women were not overlooked. He helped to create a "select committee that will bring attention to the issues POWs and MIAs face. The whole purpose of it is to give Congress a better understanding of where the needs are so that we can help. I want to help the families have some closure and let them know I recognize that not all who fought made it back home."
Kristen Duus, the Chief of External Communications for this agency, believes the number unaccounted for is over 82,500. She emphasizes, "This is a significant number and the family members have wondered for decades what happened to their loved ones. I consider this the most honorable job I ever had including my fifteen years serving in the Army. In January 2015 we became fully operational. Because of the DNA advances and the cooperation of many countries we are able to excavate the bones and then give them full military honors. We only need a minute sample of the DNA from family members."
Kristen told of the excavation of the USS Oklahoma in 2015 where about 388 sets of remains were found. The USS Oklahoma sank when torpedoes hit it on December 7, 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A total of 429 sailors and Marines on the ship were killed. Currently 60% have been identified and she is hoping in the next three to five years the number will rise to 80%.
American Thinker interviewed some of the family members who were able to obtain closure. They all emphasized that they do not want any MIA to be considered just a number by their fellow citizens, and want people to know their loved one was not some faceless hero.
Jean Weathington's brother, Navy Seaman 1st Class Murry R. Cargile, died at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 while serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. In 1947, only 35 of the remains were identified, while the other 394 were buried at the Punchbowl Cemetery, in Honolulu. In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, which included Cargile. After the excavation of the USS Oklahoma, his remains matched the DNA samples taken from Jean and two brothers. According to her Murry, the older brother "was only 23 when he died. It took my mother years to get over his death. Every time the front door opened she thought it was Murry coming home. I was grateful to have partial closure since they only found his teeth, which they buried in a beautiful casket."
Retired Colonel Perry Nuhm's uncle, Captain Albert L. Schlegel, went missing over France during World War II. "My uncle and his plane just completely disappeared in August, 1944. A year later he was declared KIA, with his fate a mystery. It is believed because of eyewitness accounts that he bailed out over Valmy, France and was taken prisoner by the Germans. After brutally interrogating him, they murdered him in cold blood, shot in the head and torso. In November, 1944 a nearly complete set of remains was found and buried at the American cemetery at Champigueul. In 2015 with modern technology available, a comparison was made between this unknown soldier and unaccounted-for U.S. personnel. They were able to connect the dots, including a leg injury sustained in 1942. The final conclusion determined that these remains were in fact my uncles. We did feel closure since we now know what happened. Unfortunately, my mother and grandmother felt deep grief, never getting over his disappearance. The longer the loss the more the hope diminished."
Peggy Booth's uncle, Army Sgt. Donald D. Noehren, died at the age of 23 in North Korea. After a battle with Chinese forces he was captured and taken to a POW camp, Hufong, where according to records he was listed as a prisoner in 1950. His remains were found by a recovery team that declared them "salted." Peggy describes how her uncle's remains "were taken out and planted in a field, probably removed from the POW camp. They had found a mass grave of skeletons and had to use DNA processing to sort out the different bones. His skull and a portion of his right tibia were found. We appreciate that over the years the Army did send us letters notifying us that they were still searching for him."
Judi Bouchard's brother, Army 1st Class Alan Boyer, went missing in Laos in 1968. Part of a Special Forces team that came under heavy fire, he could not be extracted. The helicopter ladder he was climbing broke and in 1992 a joint U.S./Lao People's Democratic Republic team investigated the case. Local Laotians reported seeing three men fall from a helicopter in 1968, and that the local militia buried the bodies in graves nearby. Eventually the remains were turned over by several unnamed Lao émigrés to an American. Judi feels "people just cannot understand unless they were in the actual situation. We all held hope he was taken prisoner. Every single day I woke up and prayed this will be the day we find him. I was consumed by the questions: Was he killed the day he fell from the helicopter, or was he taken prisoner and tortured? It is the never knowing. I am at least glad they were able to identify him by a tiny bone fragment the size of a fingernail."
Americans need to salute these families and heroes. The burials: Cargile on April 7th in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Schlegel on March 30th in Beaufort South Carolina, and Noehren on April 3rd in Arlington National Cemetery. Boyer was buried on June 22nd 2016 also in Arlington National Cemetery near his friend who enlisted to find him and ended up being killed in action in 1971. Although these men are no longer faceless, Americans should not forget the ones remaining: 73,074 service members still unaccounted for from World War II, 7,757 from the Korean War, and 1,618 from the Vietnam War.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.