SEMBACH, Germany, September 18, 2015 — September 1 marked the 76th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, which led Britain and France to declare war against Germany, setting off World War II.
During the period from 1939 to 1945, approximately 400,000 U.S. service members lost their lives. Many of those troops were brought home to be buried in the United States, but more than 73,000 Americans missing from the war still remain unaccounted for and are considered missing in action.
Streamlining Recovery Efforts
After the war ended in 1945, the U.S. government began an effort to recover those MIA’s and developed an initiative known as, “The Return of World War II Dead Program,” which focused its efforts on finding the locations of aircraft crash sites, disinterment of temporary military gravesites and researching records on former battlefields in order to locate those left behind.
Over the years, the recovery efforts continued under a variety of defense agencies, most recently the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The agency was established in January to strengthen and consolidate DoD’s global investigation and recovery efforts for American service members while increasing their overall capabilities as an organization. The agency consolidated three organizations: the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office, the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command and the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory.
“[Our] priority, as we work through our reorganization, is to maintain the mission and our ongoing operations,” said DPAA Director Michael Linnington, a retired U.S. Army three-star general. “It’s a difficult task, but it is one that we are proud to be a part of, and we are going to continue as we move forward.”
And that is exactly what is currently taking place. The day that marked the beginning of Britain’s and France’s involvement in World War II 76 years ago is the same day this year that three DPAA teams performed recovery missions in Europe to help find Americans missing in action from World War II.
5 Missing Airmen
One team near the area of Richelsdorf, Germany, is searching for five missing airmen who went down with their B-24 Liberator in September 1944. The team has successfully recovered bone matter along with personal effects and life support equipment from the wreckage, but much more work is still to be done. The recovered items must be analyzed, cataloged and correctly identified with 100 percent accuracy. Much of that work will be completed at the DPAA Forensic Identification Lab located at Joint-Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
Robert Ingraham, a forensic archeologist and recovery leader with DPAA, led the recovery team in Germany.
“Our specialist will look at all lines of evidence to [determine] a legally sound identification for the individuals we are recovering,” he said.
In the future, the organization is making it a priority to increase and streamline communication efforts with the family members of those who still have missing loved ones abroad, as well as increase public-private partnerships that enhance global recovery efforts.
While some families of the missing have not yet received the closure that they so long hoped for, the people of DPAA have made a commitment to continue the search, keeping with their motto, “Until they are home.”