The recovery efforts for prisoners of war (POWs) and missing in action (MIA) personnel by the United States government have undergone significant developments and advancements over the years. These efforts reflect the commitment to bring closure to families and honor the sacrifice of those who have served in the Armed Forces. While the recovery process is complex and challenging, the U.S. government remains dedicated to accounting for and repatriating its missing personnel.
The United States government operates several agencies and organizations that are primarily responsible for POW/MIA recovery efforts. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is at the forefront of these endeavors. Established in 2015, the DPAA consolidates and centralizes the efforts of several agencies, including the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO).
One of the primary objectives of the DPAA is the investigation, recovery, identification, and return of the remains of missing personnel from past conflicts. This includes World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, and other conflicts. The agency collaborates with various partners, including foreign governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other U.S. government agencies, to achieve these goals.
The recovery efforts involve a multi-faceted approach that combines archival research, field investigations, archaeological surveys, forensic analysis, and DNA testing. The DPAA deploys teams of professionals, including historians, anthropologists, forensic scientists, and recovery specialists, to locate and excavate potential burial sites, crash sites, or other locations where missing personnel may be located.
Advancements in technology and scientific techniques have significantly aided the recovery efforts. Forensic anthropology and DNA analysis have become powerful tools in the identification process. DNA samples from family members are collected and compared with the remains of recovered individuals to establish positive identifications. Additionally, the use of satellite imagery, remote sensing technologies, and GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping has enhanced the ability to locate and assess potential recovery sites.
The United States government has also made efforts to strengthen cooperation and information sharing with foreign governments. This collaboration is crucial, especially in cases where missing personnel might have been buried or located in other countries.
Agreements and partnerships have been established with nations involved in past conflicts, allowing for joint investigations, data sharing, and repatriation efforts.
Our government has implemented policies and programs to support the families of missing personnel. The Next-Of-Kin program, managed by the DPAA (www.dpaa.mil), provides support, updates, and resources to families throughout the recovery process. Families are provided with information on the progress of investigations, access to counseling services, and assistance in obtaining military benefits and entitlements.
I am presently working with the family of Staff Sergeant Benjamin Bromley of Mineola, whose body has never been recovered. Bromley was 31 years, an engineer of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a four-engine heavy bomber developed in the 1930s for the United States Army Air Corps, that was flying a mission in the North Atlantic in July of 1943 when it was reported missing. The government has released documents of its findings to Bromley’s family, all ending without resolution.
As the 80th anniversary of Bromley’s disappearance approaches, the family, several generations later, continues to gather clues and holds high hope for the technological advances that will bring their Staff Sergeant home for good.
Despite concerted efforts, the recovery and identification process remains challenging. The passage of time, logistical constraints, and the complexity of locating and identifying remains pose significant obstacles. Some recovery efforts are hampered by political, geographical, or security considerations in certain regions of the world.
I recently assisted the Army and their professional forensic genealogists on a hunt for the next-of-kin of a World War II soldier whose remains were recently recovered on foreign soil and positively identified. The family, who had originally lived in Great Neck, has since either moved away, passed away, or for lack of a better explanation, disappeared from Long Island, over the course of nearly eight decades. Sadly, our efforts to locate a next-of-kin for this particular soldier were unsuccessful after exhausting all local resources. I do not know the status of the Army’s quest to make contact with that soldier’s family.
The government remains resolute in its commitment to account for its missing personnel. Through ongoing research, technological advancements, international cooperation, and dedicated personnel, the efforts to recover POWs and MIAs continue to make progress. The ultimate goal is to provide answers and closure to families, to honor the memory of those who served, and to ensure that their sacrifices are never forgotten.
Christy Hinko is a managing editor at Anton Media Group and U.S. Navy veteran.