By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2006 – As Americans pause today to observe POW/MIA Recognition Day tomorrow, teams of military and civilian experts will be excavating sites in Europe, South Korea, Solomon Islands, Alaska and Hawaii, looking for remains to help identify servicemembers still missing from past wars. Teams from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, based at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, will be on the job, working to provide the fullest possible accounting of America's missing and living up to their command's motto, "Until they are home."
Additional teams are preparing for similar missions next month in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, said Maj. Brian DeSantis, a JPAC spokesman.
POW/MIA Recognition Day honors the sacrifices America's missing servicemembers and their families have made for the country, Army Brig. Gen. Michael C. Flowers, JPAC's commander, told American Forces Press Service.
But the day also offers an important reminder that the United States is committed to bringing its fallen servicemembers home so they can be returned to their families -- and it won't give up, no matter how long it takes or how difficult it might be, Flowers said.
The joint POW/MIA command is among four military organizations committed to accounting for about 88,000 U.S. servicemembers missing from the nation's wars. They include about 78,000 missing from World War II, more than 8,100 from the Korean War, 1,801 from the Vietnam War and about 125 from the Cold War, Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office here, said.
In addition, Navy Capt. Scott Speicher, a Gulf War pilot, remains missing since his plane was shot down in Iraq in January 1991.
Army Reserve Sgt. Keith "Matt" Maupin is the only U.S. servicemember missing in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Insurgents captured Maupin April 9, 2004, after his fuel convoy came under attack at Baghdad International Airport.
In addition to JPAC, the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office here, the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Md., and the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory in San Antonio, actively contribute to determining the fate of these servicemembers and returning them home, Greer said.
Each service also has an office that works directly with families of the missing throughout the accounting process, however long it takes, he said.
Flowers said his command is committed to a mission that dates back to World War II and is now embodied in the U.S. military Code of Conduct. While most countries around the world bury their war dead where they fall, the United States promises its servicemembers that it will do everything in its power to bring them home.
Working to fulfill that promise sends joint-service teams from JPAC to potential crash and burial sites around the world. "We go out worldwide to recover those who are missing or to find those who are missing so that families can have closure and so we can keep our promise to our soldiers and airmen and Marines and sailors that they will come home," Flowers said.
Once remains are repatriated to Hickam Air Force Base, experts at the command's Central Identification Laboratory -- the world's largest forensic anthropology lab -- use the most advanced science available to match them to a specific missing servicemember. New breakthroughs, including the use of mitochondrial DNA in investigations, is helping the staff make identifications once not considered possible.
So far, they've been able to successfully identify more than 1,000 missing from World War II, about 200 from the Korean War, 841 from the Vietnam War and 25 from the Cold War. Next week, JPAC expects to announce its first successful identification of a missing World War I servicemember, Greer said.
Flowers said the resolve demonstrated in making these identifications sends a strong message to the nation's military members. "They can rest assured that as they go out to fight our nation's conflicts, that no matter what happens to them, if they were to fall in battle and not be recovered by their comrades, that someone will continue to look for them and not rest until we can bring them home," he said.