Military diligent in quest to locate its missing

Armed forces lab follows leads, finds remains, IDs the fallen

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Cpl. Anderson was buried beside his sister.

“I was amazed that they were still looking after all these years,” Mr. Snider said. “It’s a stroke of luck that he’s given back to us. There’s so many other boys still there, we pray that they get to come home today.”

‘Keeping that promise’

Defense statistics show 73,681 service members missing from World War II, 7,957 from the Korean War, 126 from the Cold War, 1,666 from Vietnam, and six from Iraq and other recent conflicts.

Finding and identifying just one missing service member can take decades and span the globe.

That work begins with the Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hawaii, where researchers identify sites where the missing could have fallen.

Using records from the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, researchers track down and interview eyewitnesses, piecing together details about the missing’s last known whereabouts and the circumstances of the disappearance.

When a site is recommended for excavation, a recovery team of 10 to 15 members — including a lead anthropologist, forensic scientists and archaeologists — is sent to site for up to 60 days and often in harsh conditions.

A medic and an explosive ordnance disposal technician are always part of the team because of the buried explosives in many areas where researchers dig for remains.

Lee Tucker, a public affairs officer for JPAC, said the work is sometimes dangerous. About 10 years ago, he said, a helicopter carrying a recovery team and Vietnamese officials crashed in poor weather, killing all 16 aboard.

“You hear it said that we’ll leave no man behind,” Mr. Tucker said. “Literally, we are keeping that promise. We are keeping the nation’s promise of leaving no man behind. That’s absolutely huge.”

Remains are flown to JPAC’s identification laboratory in Hawaii. Often the remains are so degraded that DNA is the only way to identify the missing.

That is where the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory at Dover Air Force Base comes in.

The DNA difference

The 160 forensic scientists at the Dover lab extract mitochondrial DNA from the remains for identification.

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