National Geographic : 2009 Jun
PHOTO: JONATHAN KINGSTON GRAPHIC SOURCE: DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, MARCH 2009 ARCHAEOLOGY Finding the Fallen A mud-caked pair of size nine combat boots (above) is among the latest World War II artifacts to emerge from Germany's Hürtgen Forest, scene of a bloody battle that saw some 31,000 U.S. casualties. Found with the boots last summer were the bones of two soldiers. The task of identifying the men falls to the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), established in 2003 to consolidate Pentagon efforts to find missing military personnel, including 84,711 soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines from World War II onward whose fates remain uncertain. Every year JPAC dispatches forensic teams to long-quiet battle- fields throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific as well as sites of plane crashes and sunken vessels. When remains are recovered, they are sent to JPAC's laboratory in Hawaii, the world's largest forensic anthropology lab. There scientists analyze bones, teeth, and DNA, which can be compared with samples from relatives of the missing. They also search for clues among personal effects. A wallet was found with the boots. A case ends with family notification. Sharon Bannister was five years old in 1972 when the jet carrying her father, Stephen A. Rusch, crashed in Laos. At JPAC, 35 years later, she was shown two frag- ments of his teeth and presented with her father's dog tag, found at the crash site by a JPAC team. She accompanied his flag-draped coffin to Arlington National Cemetery. "It was just two tiny teeth," she said. "But they answered so many questions." ---Peter Gwin 26,889 Other locations 1,325 N. Marianas & Guam 1,143 Americas 3,731 Japan 1,866 Papua New Guinea 1,656 France 2,749 North Sea 2,476 Pacific Ocean 1,977 Germany 2,014 China, Burma, India 2,179 Other European nations 2,772 Solomon Islands 3,518 Africa & Mediterranean 9,238 Other Pacific islands 9,991 Philippines 1,267 Italy 8,050 Korea 1,742 Vietnam 74,791 W WII THE MISSING Since 1941 nearly 85,000 men and women from the U.S. military have been declared missing in action. The Pentagon works on some 700 active cases at any given time, solving about seven each month. Item: U.S. Army boots Conflict: World War II Location: Germany Case status: In progress Currently, the JPAC unit also has 127 Cold War cases, one case related to the Gulf War, and none for Iraq and Afghanistan.