Unknown Soldiers: DNA technology makes it possible for their remains to be identified.


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Unknown soldiers can be identified!

More than 83,000 US service members lost since the start of WWII are still missing, according to a representative of the Department of Defence. Several lie in forgotten graves on the battlefield and below memorials offering no clue to their identities.

New techniques in DNA technology may mean we have seen the last burial of an unknown soldier. In offices and laboratories across the country and archaeological sites scattered across continents, groups of investigators and scientists comb the remains of the past for lost defenders.

In the US, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), based in Honolulu, Hawaii, and also the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), based in Arlington, Virginia keep case files on each missing sailor, soldier, Marine and airman.

Researchers at JPAC and DPMO establish possible sites of remains. A team of archaelogists visited North Korea in 2004 and located skeletal remains of thirty individuals tossed haphazardly into a mass grave close to Chosin Reservoir. They shipped the bones to JPAC in Honolulu, where the bones were used to find gender, age, ancestry, and distinguishing marks. The process can take anywhere from two weeks to one year, depending on the existing backlog. Frustratingly, the original sample may not be enough and in that case, they must restart from the beginning.

For the remains whose DNA is successfully processed, the researchers will try and match them with DNA samples taken from thousands of possible family members.

Two of my great uncles, Private Joseph Philias Albert Emery and Private Joseph Turmaine, were reported missing in action in WWI and I would be thrilled to have their remains recovered.