As we honor our war dead this Memorial Day, we must not forget that some families have no cemetery to visit, no grave to decorate; indeed, no knowledge of what became of their loved ones who went off to war. They may take some comfort in knowing that America is engaged in an intensive effort to find and bring their family members home.
The effort is coordinated by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) at the Pentagon. There are more than 88,000 U.S. military personnel unaccounted for from conflicts from World War II through the Gulf War. The DPMO sets policy and priorities for recovering persons, conducts archival research to aid in recovery, and tends to the budget matters.
The operational work is done by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii. JPAC conducts investigations and analyzes evidence to locate and recover missing U.S. military personnel using state of the art forensic techniques. Key to their mission is the work done by JPAC's Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), the world's largest forensic anthropology laboratory. The lab is currently identifying about two individuals a week--more than 100 a year.
CIL can often identify individuals if they have a reference sample of DNA from surviving family members. CIL uses mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, inherited only from the mother. They use this type of DNA because, as Blaine Bettinger has taught us, it is long-lasting, abundant, and doesn’t change much from generation to generation.
Genealogists can help by selecting a casualty (perhaps from your home town, home state or a man that served in the same unit as you), and researching their family history to determine if there are living relatives who might be FRS donors. Click here for a list of Family Reference Samples (FRS) required by JPAC.
At this link, you'll find press releases announcing recent identifications.
Until They Are Home . . . .