Missing in Action can mean a lot of things. In this case, it refers to my Uncle John, the youngest of my Mother’s four brothers. John was 19 years of age when he entered the service in the spring of 1943.
As I have matured (that sounds better than gotten older), there are certain things that I’ve had a serious compulsion to complete. Visiting John’s twenty-one year old brother, Allen’s, grave in Luxembourg was one of those things. Researching if there was anything I could do to help identify my Uncle John’s remains if they were ever recovered was another.
I emailed the US Army at Fort Knox and asked if I could donate DNA for identification purposes and was contacted immediately by a Case Manager with the Past Conflict Repatriations Branch at Fort Knox. As part of the DNA cheek swab submission process, a copy of his personnel file was included in the package.
However, I was certainly surprised while reading the Battle Casualty Report to learn that during a battle his plane collided with another B-24 from the same squadron over the Gulf of Martaban, Burma. Both planes exploded and their crews fell to their death into the Gulf of Martaban.
He was declared dead on Sunday, October 22, 1944, but according to a document marked sensitive in the file there were also two previous dates of death, 7 March 42, and 4 April 1946. I’m sure that confusion was not comforting to my grandparents, but I cannot even comprehend the number of deaths and the volumes of paper they were processing at that time.
Uncle John is memorialized on the Tablets at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines, which is the largest of all the ABMC cemeteries. This cemetery has burial plots for 17,191 Americans and 36,286 listed on the Tablets as missing in action, lost, or buried at sea.
Although this may seem to be an unhappy post on this beautiful Monday in July, it brings me satisfaction that I’ve done everything I can to make sure that if at any point in the future his remains are found he can be buried and recognized for his service. My Grandparents would want it that way.
If you have a loved one that has made the ultimate sacrifice, the personnel file is certainly an insight into their service life. My Uncle John has been gone for over 70 years, but he is not forgotten.
The American Battle Monuments Commission, ABMC, has a website and is on Facebook. They do an amazing job on our behalf of recognizing and respecting individuals who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our Country.
If this topic is of any interest to you, there is a fellow blogger, GP Cox, who has a great site where he reports and reflects on past conflicts – Pacific Paratrooper War Era Information.
Photo credits: B24 screenshot from the web, map from the Britannica website, Manilla America Cemetery shots from the ABMC website.