Another family joins lawsuit against JPAC for recovery of remains from WWII
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 22, 2014
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Another family has filed suit against the Defense Department POW/MIA accounting agencies seeking the identification and return of remains.
Sally Hill Jones — niece and next of kin of a missing World War II Army Air Forces B-24 gunner — filed suit without the assistance of an attorney on Dec. 4 in a Texas district court, according to documents. Jones seeks to join John Eakin in suing the government over remains she thinks could belong to her uncle, Staff Sgt. Carl Holley.
Holley was one of 10 reportedly killed on April 18, 1944, when the B-24 bomber “Sweepy-Time” Gal was shot down by Japanese Zeroes off the coast of Hong Kong. Four bodies were recovered after the crash, and three allegedly have been identified, according to Jones, former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command investigators and accounting documents.
The unidentified remains were buried at Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, called the Punchbowl, until 2005, when they were exhumed by JPAC.
The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory have tried to use DNA testing to identify the remains but have been unable to do so, according to internal emails and documents.
In 2012, after years of JPAC denials, Eakin sued for the remains of his cousin, Pvt. Arthur “Bud” Kelder, who, evidence suggested, was buried as an unknown in the Philippines. As a result, the Defense Department exhumed 10 sets of remains in August and is actively working to make identifications.
Jones said she had been pursuing the case since 2001, but couldn’t get answers until she filed her lawsuit. The accounting community finally responded to her, but she was not satisfied.
The government has until Jan. 16 to respond to her suit, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Daryl Fields.
“I don’t have faith in JPAC to make the ID, given their track record,” Jones said.
She hoped that by suing, she could open the door for other families.
“I’d like to see an attorney take this on as a class action,” she said. “There are a lot of older folks whose siblings died in World War II, and they don’t know what happened to them. But they could know. It’s heartbreaking.”
Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, declined to comment in an email to Stars and Stripes, citing the ongoing litigation.
However, Jones provided documents and emails to Stars and Stripes that show the JPAC-CIL and AFDIL are using an untested, next-generation mitochondrial DNA approach with the remains. They believe they have a result, but the procedure hasn’t been validated yet.
Jones has been told the validation and an identification could come early next year.
Mark Leney, JPAC’s former DNA manager, who is now at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, had undertaken the case before he left JPAC in 2006. He said the remains appeared to have been treated with a chemical — possibly formaldehyde — that made the identification difficult at the time. However, he believed that issue had been resolved in recent years by technological advancements.
“That was eight years ago,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like they’ve gone very far.”
Leney said mitochondrial DNA testing is “not a very strong method” in making identifications and works best in exclusions.
Jones started her quest for an ID more than a decade ago. Her mother has since died.
Louis Mroz, younger brother of 2nd Lt. John Mroz, who also died in the plane crash and is one of the seven missing, had been leading efforts to compel the government to make an identification but is now 86 and in poor health. He said he has been turned away by JPAC several times when seeking answers.
“I’d like to see some new sources of information,” he said.
Jones hopes her suit can spur identifications before the memories fade — like Mroz’s recollection of his brother building him a P-40 Warhawk model airplane just before he shipped out.
“He was quite a guy,” Mroz said of his brother. “He always had time to help me. … I’m 86 years old, but the memories are still fresh in my mind.”