U. S. 7th Armored Division Association
How Can I Help with Identifying WWII Unknowns?
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Last updated: November 4, 2013 - What's New?
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This web page grew out of the response at our 2013 Reunion to the awareness of the failure of the U. S. accounting community to identify the approximately 8,300 WWII Unknowns, who probably include 30 to 50 of the 82 still missing 7th Armored Division. Reunion attendees wanted to know how they can help to assure that Congress provides the accountability and the advocacy for the families of these men. So this web page explains how you can help.

Before going into the specifics of what you can do, there is first a section to explain the problems and the context.

The Problems
The essential issue is that the accounting community has a formal policy of ignoring the WWII Unknowns.

The accounting community is not doing anything to identify the 8,300 WWII Unknowns buried in US military cemeteries. Nor do they have any plans to do so in the future. The technology of the 1940's and 1950's could not identify these men. But we now have DNA testing that could do what could not be done in the 1950's. But there is nothing being done to use modern DNA technology to identify them, and there are no plans for anything to be done -- in spite of assurances to the family that the DNA specimens that they are providing are going to be used. Family members are going to their own graves with no hope of ever having anything done to identify their soldier. WWII buddies of the Unknowns are going to their own graves, taking with them answers to crucial questions that no one is even bothering to ask now while they are still with us, which might help to identify these men.

This policy is not hidden. It has been on the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO) web site for quite a long time since it was set on 16 Dec 2010.

Certainly priorities must be set in any endeavor. But since there is the absolute certainty that the family members and buddies of these Unknowns are passing away, the top priority should be to assure that the WWII Unknowns are dealt with first, while these people are still living. Right now there is no hope of that, and there is not even the offer of hope to them that when they are gone there might be some reason for hope in the future because the reality is that nothing is even planned to be done in the future.

The fundamental cause of the problem is that there has been no real accountability - to Congress or the families - and no one providing real advocacy for the families. And so the accounting community has made up priorities for their own concvenience based on critera that they have established -- with no one to hold them accountable and say that these are or are not the right criteria or priorities.

It is important to keep in mind that the accounting community members at the operational level are extremely dedicated and committed to truly leaving no soldier behind. They are not the problem. But they must toe the management line, and it is the management that is the source of the problems.

There are two aspects to this problem, both of which need to be addressed by Congress providing real oversight and advocacy for the families and assuring real accountability of the accounting community to Congress and to the families.

  1. Assuring that the WWII Unknowns Are Identified

    The first criterion for prioritizing accounting community efforts must be to avert the certain loss of crucial information that the buddies of the Unknowns hold in their memories. This loss is not a risk of loss; it is a certainty of loss, beyond all hope of recovery no matter how much effort and money is later brought to bear.

    A systematic program of honorably disinterring the remains of the Unknowns and extracting DNA samples and then reinterring them should be carried out as soon as possible. The current program of soliciting DNA from family members is a cruel hoax that offers hope when there really are no plans to do anything to create a database of the DNA of the Unknowns against whic the DNA of the family members can be matched. The reason that the Unknowns are Unknowns is that the technology of the 1940's and 1950's could not identify them. But we now have DNA (and other methods) that can and should be used to identify the Unknowns in ways that did not exist in the 1940's and 1950's.

  2. Assuring that the Individual Deceased Personnel Files are available to families and researchers

    Every service member who died had an Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) created. For Unknowns, there are really two IDPFs: one for the named soldier who has going missing and one for the set of unidentified remains, identified only by an X-number (e.g. reamins X-46 recovered by graves registration teams based at the Hamm, Luxembourg, temporary US military cemetery). Thus both files are essential for identifying an Unknown -- and the IDPFs of others killed in the same action can also provide critical information. So access to IDPFs is extremely important for families and unit MIA researchers to determine which Unknowns might be a particular lost soldier or which soldiers might be a particular Unknown.

    The Freedom of Information Act has provided theoretical access to the IDPFs for nearly 20 years. But the actual access to the IDPFs has ground to a near halt, due to DPMO refusing to turn them over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and to a move and staffing cuts in the office that has provided this access in the past. DPMO's position is that they cannot do their job if they do not have physical custody of all IDPFs. NARA's position is that they have a proven track record many decades long of working with all agencies of the government to assure that the records are safely stored and well organized and that the agencies have assurance of extremely prompt provision of any needed records. NARA teams that have seen the physical storage of the IDPFs saw the conditions as "awful" and endangering the physical condition of the files. In addition, the files are in great disarray, since there is no overall organizational methodology to their storage. NARA has state of the art facilities to assure the physical preservation of the files. And they also have great expertise in organizing files, so that the reality would probably be that DPMO could actually obtain a desired file faster from NARA than they can now do. But things are at an impasse, and Congress needs to step in and order that the IDPFs be transferred to NARA's custody.

How Can I Help?
Contact your Congressmen and Senators, sending copies to the sub-committee heads.

We really want to inform the chairmen and ranking members of the relevant House and Senate sub-committees of our concerns. These are the sub-committees holding hearings on the failure of the accounting community. In the House of Representatives, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Military Personnel is Joe Wilson (R-SC), and the ranking member is Susan A. Davis (D-CA). In the Senate, the Financial & Contracting Oversight Subcommittee chairman is Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and the Republican member in the hearings is Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

But both houses of Congress have a strict protocol about communications from citizens who are not their constituents. If you were to send a letter directly to any of these sub-committee heads and you were not from their district, then they would simply forward your letter on to your own Congressman or Senator and not read it. So you must send your letters to your Congressman and your Senators, noting at the bottom that you are also sending a copy to the sub-committee heads. There is still no guarantee that the sub-committee heads will ever see or read your letter, but the odds are better, and the possibility that your own Congressman or Senator will contact the sub-committee heads is increased. It is a lot like pushing a marshmallow to be able to have your message heard by the sub-commmittee heads, but this seems to be the way it has to be done.

So what you should do is use the documents in the links below, modifying them as you feel is appropriate for you. Send the House of Representatives document to your Congressman, also sending copies to Congressman Joe Wilson and Congresswoman Susan A. Davis. Send separate copies of the Senate document to both of your Senators, also sending copies of each one to Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator Kelly Ayotte.

If you want to use the letters as is, then all you have to do is fill in your name and address, the date, and the name of your Congressman or Senator in each letter. We are not doing this as an organization. So feel free to modify the letters to say what it is that you want to say.