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GIs buried as 'unknowns' in Philippines are returned to Hawaii for identification

Members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conduct an honorable carry for the remains of unidentified U.S. service members at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 21, 2020. The remains were recently disinterred from the Philippines and will be examined by forensic anthropologists and odontologists at DPAA's skeletal identification laboratory in hopes of making an identification.

JONATHAN MCELDERRY/U.S. AIR FORCE

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 4, 2021

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recently conducted an "honorable carry" ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for about 40 sets of "unknown" World War II U.S. remains that were returned from the Philippines for identification.

The repatriation from Manila American Cemetery and Memorial represents one of the large disinterment projects being carried out by the accounting agency, which has a forensic identification lab and administrative offices at Hickam.

Other major World War II exhumation projects have been conducted for the 1943 Battle of Tarawa and 1943 Operation Tidal Wave bombing of oil refineries in Ploiesti, Romania.

Large-scale disinterments also take place at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl involving World War II and Korean War "unknowns."

The Defense POW /MIA Accounting Agency, which has hundreds of personnel in Hawaii, investigates, recovers and identifies missing Americans from the nation's past wars.

For a heavily coronavirus-affected fiscal year 2020, which ended at the end of September, the accounting agency, with an operations and maintenance budget of $169 million, said it made just 120 identifications, with 82 from World War II, 36 from the Korean War and two from the Vietnam War.

In fiscal year 2019, according to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, DPAA recorded 218 identifications, the highest yearly total reached by the agency.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400, 000 died in the war, the accounting agency said.

Approximately 73, 000 are still unaccounted for, with about 30, 000 assessed as possibly recoverable.

The United States is one of the few nations, along with South Korea, that undertakes the effort to retrieve and identify past war dead. Some families wait decades for the return of a relative for hometown burial.

Each of the transfer cases containing remains that were brought back to Hawaii from the Philippines on an Air Force cargo jet was topped by a folded American flag in a sign of the military's respect for fallen comrades. The remains will be examined by forensic anthropologists and odontologists at the accounting agency's lab with the hope of making an identification.

World War II remains from the Philippines are periodically returned to Hawaii.

In March 2018 a team of eight Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency personnel traveled to the Manila cemetery and spent 13 days disinterring 20 unknown graves related to prisoners of war killed in the Cabanatuan POW Camp.

Between November 2019 and January 2020, 55 exhumations were conducted. Some headstones at the Manila cemetery read, "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God."

In 2019 the accounting agency identified Army Sgt. Cread Shuey, 23, of Norton, Kan., who was a member of the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment serving in the Philippines when Japanese forces invaded.

"Intense fighting continued until the surrender of the Bataan Peninsula on April 9, 1942, and of the Corregidor Island on May 6, 1942, " the agency said.

Thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members were taken prisoner and sent to POW camps. Shuey was captured after the surrender of Corregidor and held at Cabanatuan POW camp. More than 2, 500 POWs perished in the camp during the remaining years of the war.

Shuey died Sept. 27, 1942, and was buried with fellow prisoners in the Cabanatuan camp cemetery. Shuey and others were reburied several times as attempts were made to identify the service members, but commingling of remains and limited identification technology hampered those efforts.

In 2016 the Army granted permission to exhume six graves at Manila American Cemetery, and Shuey was identified using dental, anthropological and mitochondrial DNA analysis.

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Members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conduct an honorable carry for the remains of unidentified U.S. service members at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 21, 2020. The remains were recently disinterred from graves at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines as part of DPAA's effort to provide the fullest possible accounting of missing personnel to their families and the nation.
JONATHAN MCELDERRY/U.S. AIR FORCE