Over the years, America has faced many conflicts: World War II, Korean War and more. Unfortunately, sometimes service members aren’t able to make it home – whether alive or in a casket. However, over the years, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) had made it their mission to reunite service members and their families. There are currently still many unaccounted for from previous wars, and recent advances in technology have allowed scientists and researchers to explore underwater landscapes that were previously unreachable.
It’s really important, you know, there’s a promise that we make as a nation to our service members, and that they make to one another, that no one will be left behind, no one will be forgotten, and this is how the nation executes that promise. This is how we go about fulfilling that. One of the main differences of what people expect to happen when they see it on TV or in the movies versus the reality of working in a human identification lab or a crime lab, is that DNA results don’t come back within that 30-minute episode. It takes, often times, very much longer for any of the analytical tests that we do to yield a result that we can use in the laboratory. The USS Oklahoma project was one of the main first projects that we’ve had to do as a concerted effort for a project. And we just recently hit the 200 ID milestone this past week, or a couple of weeks ago.
The whole reason that we were able to do these disinterment projects is that now, with the science and the technology that we have, we can make the argument that these remains that have been unidentified and unidentifiable for over 70 years, now we have the capability to identify them. So, the Oklahoma was sort of the pathfinder, the way forward that showed we can be successful doing this. And so, based on their success, we made the argument to disinter the West Virginia and the California. And so, yeah, the expectations are identical that we will be able to identify all, or nearly all, of the individuals from those two ships that are still unidentified.
The amount of effort that goes into recovering these remains and to making identifications is often times a lot of hard research and analysis prior to even getting to go on an investigation or a recovery, or an exhumation if it was a disinterment. And then, once the remains are accessioned into the laboratory, be it from field work or from exhumations from cemeteries, there’s just a large amount of information that we have to take in and analytical tests to perform. That all kind of coalesce to become a picture of an individual identification.
I’m always surprised to hear that folks aren’t aware that we’re doing this. And so, it’s really important to me to be able to spread that word so that the people do know this is something that’s ongoing, and even if it takes 75 years, or longer, we’re not gonna give up. We’re gonna keep trying.