Military Monday – Unknown World War II Soldiers

I’ve been writing a few books on my military ancestors based on my Finishing the Story lecture. If you haven’t heard it and live in the Chicago area, I think I’ve only got one more date on my calendar for that lecture this year. The second lecture in what is now becoming a series will be Stories of the Lost which will be given starting in November. Check out my events page for details.

Throughout this writing process I’ve uncovered a lot of information I didn’t realize existed and also answered several questions. Throughout my lecturing process I realized most people do not know about a lot of the military records available. They do not know the process or length of time it took in World War I or World War II to notify the families that their soldier, nurse, WAC, or whomever was injured, Missing in Action or Killed in Action. And many people do not know about the burial process of those who died in service.

Now, a little background. During World War I and World War II, when a soldier, nurse, WAC, or anyone serving died, they were buried in a temporary cemetery overseas. If they died stateside, their remains were shipped home shortly after death. Two or three years after the war ended, and I stress this – two or three years after the war ended, the government began handling the temporary cemeteries. At that time, families were given the option to have their Soldier Dead disinterred and reburied overseas in a permanent American military cemetery or to have their remains shipped home. Both options were available at the government’s expense, not the family’s. If you want to know more about this process, Michael Sledge’s book Soldier Dead is an excellent resource.

Those Soldier Dead who were unknown are still buried in graves marked as Unknown in cemeteries around the world. There is a debate going about disinterring these soldiers and using DNA and other techniques to determine their identity. You can read about that here in an article published on NBS News Investigations called Pentagon Agency under Fire for Refusing to ID Unknown Soldiers from World War II.

When I read the article I was angry that there are people within agencies who deal with the remains of our soldiers that refused to look at alternative ways of identifying the remains. The individuals, especially Rick Stone, who are thinking outside the box on ways to identify these soldiers, are being knocked down by others who are unable to think outside the box. The article stated Rick has almost positively identified at least one or more soldiers using alternative methods and yet the government refuses to join the conversation in a positive way.

After each war there was some debate as the best way to handle the remains and many felt moving them as little as possible was the best way to go. I imagine there are many today who feel the same way. But, what if your family has an Unknown Soldier from World War II buried somewhere and it was possible that if the government disinterred the remains and ran DNA tests against someone in your family, that you might be able to claim that Unknown Soldier? Bring him home? How would you feel if the government said no we are not going to deal with this?

If I thought I had an Unknown Soldier out there from my family I’d do whatever it took to find out if those remains were his or hers. And I’d bring him home unless I knew his wish was to be buried where he fell. Then I’d make sure a new grave marker was put up with his name like everyone else has.

What do you think?

© 2013, Generations, Woodridge, IL


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