For as long as there has been war, there have been brave, young, and courageous men and women who have gone off into battle, only to never return home. Some were killed in ambush attacks, others became prisoners of war or went missing in action.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Defense.
Within the agency is a team of scientists from agencies including the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, military personnel, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Army Casualty Office, as well as volunteers, who work together to provide the fullest possible accounting for those selfless soldiers who served our country, ultimately intending to bring them home to their families and to the nation.
“Our mission will be achieved case by case, individual by individual, and family by family. The mission is not about numbers, it is about the fullest possible accounting of all Americans who are still missing from past conflicts dating back to World War II,” the agency said in a statement. “We will stay the course with this mission until the job is done.”
It’s a team effort to fulfill the agency’s motto, “Fulfilling our nation’s promise.” The work at times can be tedious and emotional, but it’s worth it once a soldier is identified and back home with their loved ones.
Currently, there are more than 81,900 U.S. military members that were never found, and never accounted for dating back to the Revolutionary War. However, hundreds have been accounted for since the DPAA was formed in January 2015. Earlier this month, the DPAA paid tribute to the 429 crewmembers of the USS Oklahoma killed 80 years ago on the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Oahu and Pearl Harbor. As a result of Project Oklahoma, over a six-year period, 355 of 388 Sailors and Marines have been identified.
The U.S. Navy, in partnership with the Department of Defense Pow/MIA Accounting Agency and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific will host the re-interment for the 33 remaining unknown Sailors of the USS Oklahoma.
On Dec. 29, the DPAA sent out an update on Facebook showing photos of a deployed recovery team to Sciacca, Sicily, screening clay and soil at a wet screening station in efforts to recover service members missing from World War II.
“As service members and families celebrated the spirit of the holidays this past week, DPAA remembers its recovery teams across the globe that continue its honorable mission to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation,” the post read.
“You guys are such heroes,” one person wrote. “Thank you for all your efforts to bring our soldiers home to Rest in Peace.”
The stories of some of those whose remains have been accounted for are below.
Army Sergeant Howard R. Belden was classified as missing in action after his unit came under attack during the Korean War on Dec. 1, 1950.
Belden was a member of Headquarters Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. After the attack, his remains could not be located or recovered. During a 2018 summit meeting between the U.S. and North Korea, 55 boxes of human remains of American servicemen killed in the line of duty were placed in the custody of the U.S. Upon analysis at the DPAA laboratory, one of those sets of remains was identified as Belden’s.
Nearly 70 years later, on Oct. 14, 2021, Belden’s remains were identified. Belden who was from Hague, New York, is scheduled to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. A date has not yet been determined.
“Thank you, Sgt. Belden, for your service and ultimate sacrifice…so young. May you now rest in peace,” wrote someone on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook page. “Thank you, DPAA, for keeping the sacred promise.”
Corporal Kenneth Ray Foreman, 19, went missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950, during the Korean War. He was last seen somewhere near the Chosin Reservoir, during the 17-day conflict that became known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. His remains could not be located or recovered following the incident.
Foreman served in Company A, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. His remains were among those turned over during a 2018 summit meeting between the U.S. and North Korea. Once the remains arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman, Hawaii on Aug. 1, 2018, they were analyzed into the DPAA laboratory for identification.
The date he was accounted for was June 7, 2021. Almost six months later, on Dec. 2, 2021, the young soldier was buried at Mount Orab.
“Welcome Home Soldier. You made your country proud,” someone wrote on the DPAA Facebook page.
Navy Seaman 1st Class Buford H. Dyer, 19, was killed in action during the Battle of the Pacific during World War II.
Dyer was serving abroad on the USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Oklahoma capsized in the attack after it was hit by multiple torpedoes, and Dyer was one of the 429 crewmen killed in the incident.
An old newspaper clipping titled: “Barberton Sailor Killed in Pacific,” said “Buford was a former Barberton high school student. He leaves his mother and two brothers, Jay and Chester, 16. His brother Jay, 18, enlisted in the marines a few day after the Pearl Harbor attack.”
His remains were eventually recovered from the ship, but they could not be identified, and the young seaman was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, with the other unidentified remains. In October 1949, a military board classified Dyer as one of those service members who could not be identified and as non-recoverable.
Between June and November 2015, some of those unknown remains from the battleship Oklahoma were exhumed after the DPAA received the authorization. Through dental and anthropological analysis, Dyer’s remains were successfully identified and accounted for on Aug. 6, 2021.
In April 2022, Dyer of Barberton, Ohio, will be buried in Seville, Ohio.
“Welcome home Navy Seaman 1st Class Buford H. Dyer. Your country has missed you,” wrote one person on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Facebook page.
Army Private Archie V. Fleeman, 19, was killed in action in Germany during World War II. On Nov. 11, 1944, Fleeman’s unit was attacked while positioned north of Geometer, Germany, on the front lines of the Hurtgen Forest.
There were many casualties, and Fleeman was serving as a stretcher-bearer for wounded troops. It was reported that Fleeman never returned to the front lines. German forces never listed him as a prisoner of war. The War Department issued a presumptive finding of death on Nov. 12, 1945.
Between 1946 and 1950, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) conducted several investigations in the Hurtgen area and were unable to recover or identify the missing soldiers’ remains. In September 1951, Fleeman was declared non-recoverable.
A German team was clearing landmines southwest of Hurtgen found a set of unknown remains. The remains were buried in the Ardennes American Cemetery. In August 2018, some of those remains were unearthed and examined. Shortly after, a DPAA historian made a connection between the unknown remains and one of 11 missing soldiers.
On Sept., 23, 2021, Fleeman of Bell, California, was finally accounted for. Although a date has not yet been set for his burial, he will be buried in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
“Welcome home hero. Rest in peace. Thank you DPAA for your dedication,” wrote someone on the DDPA facebook.
Navy Seaman 1st Class Edward E. Talbert, 19, of Albemarle, North Carolina, was killed during World War II.
The young sailor was on the battleship USS Oklahoma when it was attacked by a Japanese aircraft, causing the ship to capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Talbert.
“Approximately 1,000 people from across the country gathered at Prospect Baptist Church four miles north of Albermarle Sunday morning to attend memorial services for Edward Evertt Talbert, son of Mr. and Mrs. Gurley Talbert of Albemarle, the first man from this county to lose his life in World War II,” The Observer reported at the time. “Young Talbert, who was scarcely 20 years of age lost his life when the Japanese made their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor Sunday morning, December 7. He was a first-class seam in the United States Navy.”
Talbert was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl in Honolulu when he could not be identified. Between June and November 2015, DPAA personnel unearthed the remains for analysis.
Talbert was officially accounted for on Aug. 5, 2021, On March 26, 2022, Talbert will be buried in his hometown.
“Welcome home sailor. May you now rest in peace and your family rejoice in having you home. Thank you DPAA and other agencies for all you do in returning our loved ones home,” wrote one person on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Facebook page.
Army Corporal Robert C. Agard, Jr. was reported missing in action during the Korean War while conducting a night recon patrol with his unit near Taejon, South Korea.
Agard was never found, nor were any remains recovered that could be identified as Agard. In January 1956, Agard was declared non-recoverable.
A set of remains, classified as X-311, was found near Daebyeol-dong, a village near Taejon, along with two other members of Agard’s unit in December 1950. However, X-311 could not be identified and was later buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In July 2018, DPAA historians and anthropologists proposed a plan to disinter and identify the 652 sets of remains from Korean War that were unidentified. Among those were 53 sets of remains recovered from Taejon, South Korea. On June 10, 2019, X-311 was exhumed as part of the Korean War Identification Project and transferred to the DPAA Laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
More than a year late, on Sept. 20, 2020, Agard was accounted for.
Agard, who was from Buffalo, New York, will be buried on May 30, 2022, in Elmira, New York.
Private First Class Jimmy Rowland a native of Baldwyn, Mississippi, went missing during the Korean War.
The 19-year-old private served with the Heavy Mortar Company, 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division.
On July 16, 1950, during the Battle of Kum River, Rowland’s unit was attempting to withdraw through an enemy roadblock outside Taejon, South Korea. He was not seen again, and none of the remains recovered immediately following the incident could be identified as Rowland’s.
Less than a year after his disappearance, in February 1951, four sets of remains were recovered near a bridge located west of the main Seoul-Taejon supply route.
Three of the remains were identified, but the fourth set was unable to be identified at the time and was eventually buried as unknown remains at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In 2018, the DPAA began an effort to identify all of the unknown remains buried in the NMCP associated with the Korean War. During the analysis, they identified the remains as those of Rowland.
Rowland was accounted for on Nov. 5, 2021. He will be buried at his final resting place in his hometown on Jan.15, 2022.
“Welcome Home Pfc Rowland. Americans have missed you and thank you and your family for your ultimate sacrifice. May you forever Rest in Peace,” someone wrote on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook.
Captain Nando A. Cavalieri, 24, was killed during World War II on Feb. 3, 1945.
The young captain was a bombier on the B-17G Flying Fortress bomber. While on a mission over Berlin, the aircraft was struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire.
The plane broke into two pieces in the air and crashed. Cavalieri was one of 21 bombers to be lost during the mission. His body and ID tags were reportedly recovered by German forces. Days after the crash, he was buried in Döberitz, Germany.
Following the end of the war, part of the role of the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) was to recover the missing American personnel in Europe. They were able to recover all of the Americans buried in Döberitz but were unable to identify Cavalieri. On Oct. 23, 1951, he was declared non-recoverable.
Between 2016 and 2018, DPAA historians completed a comprehensive research project focused on the eight sets of unknown remains recovered from Döberitz. As a result, one set of remains, designated X-4983 Neuville, was determined to be a strong candidate for association with Cavalieri. They had been buried in Ardennes American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission cemetery in Belgium. In June 2018, they were disinterred and sent to the DPAA laboratory.
Three years later, on July 27, 2021, Capt. Cavalieri was officially accounted for.
Cavalieri, who is from Eveleth, Minnesota, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. A date has not been determined.
“Welcome home hero and may you rest in peace. Welcome home Captain,” wrote the Defense POW/MIA Facebook.
Another person wrote: “Thank you, Capt. Cavalieri, for your service and ultimate sacrifice. As a member of a WWII Gold Star family whose own hero was recently recovered, I empathize with your family. May you now rest in peace. Thank you, DPAA, for keeping America’s sacred promise.”
Anel B. Shay, Jr., 27, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces, was killed during World War II.
Shay served in the 345th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bombardment Group, and was the bombardier operator on board a B-24 Liberator aircraft that operated in Operation TIDAL WAVE, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries at Ploiesti, north of Bucharest, Romania.
On Aug. 1, 1943, the Liberator was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed. Shay was one of nine crew members killed in the crash. The only surviving crew member was taken prisoner and eventually returned to U.S. custody.
The remains that could not be identified were buried in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan, Ploiesti, Prahova, Romania.
In 2017, DPAA began exhuming unknowns believed to be associated with unaccounted-for airmen from Operation TIDAL WAVE losses. The remains were sent to the DPAA laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for examination and identification.
On June 28, 2021, Shay was accounted for.
Shay who was from Seattle, Washington, will be buried in his hometown.
“RIP at home 2nd Lt Shay,” someone wrote on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook.
“What a blessing!! So overjoyed for this family to finally have their soldiers’ remains returned to them! Peace!” someone wrote on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook.
Army Corporal. Marvin D. Actkinson, 18, of Sudan, Texas, was reported missing in action in Korea on Dec. 2, 1950, after his unit was attacked by enemy forces as they attempted to withdraw near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.
According to an old newspaper clipping, the Army had notified Actkinson’s parents that their son may be alive, and a prisoner of war.
Actkinson served with the 32nd Infantry Regiment. He entered the Army in March 1949. He worked as a cook when he arrived in Korea in September 1950.
On Oct. 1, 2021, the young corporal was identified. Scientists from DPAA used anthropological and isotope analysis, and circumstantial evidence to identify Actkinson’s remains that were in one of the 55 boxes that North Korea turned over to the U.S. of American service members killed during the Korean War.
The young corporal will be buried in Colorado City, Texas.
“Another soldier’s remains identified from the 55, another family will now have peace,” wrote one person on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook
Another person said, “Welcome home my Brother you weren’t forgotten in our hearts and country history. May you now R.I.P,” wrote on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook
Army Sgt. James N. Stryker, 20, of West Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, was killed during the Korean War.
Stryker was reported missing in action on May 18, 1951, when the enemy attacked his unit near Han’gye, South Korea. His remains could not be immediately recovered. He was not officially declared dead until after the Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
During a search of Korean War battlefields shortly after he went missing, an unknown set of remains was recovered from the area Stryker was last seen. After a preliminary examination at Tanggok United Nations Military Cemetery, identification could not be made and the remains were buried as Unknown X-1373 Tanggok.
Further attempts were made to identify X-1373 but were unsuccessful. The remains were later transported with all of the unidentified Korean War remains and buried as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In May 2017, the family of a soldier associated with the same area where Stryker went missing requested X-1373 be disinterred for comparison with their loved one.
After further review, it was determined that X-1373 could be associated with Stryker or five other Soldiers. The remains were exhumed on Aug. 20, 2018, and a careful analysis was done. Less than two years later, Stryker was accounted for Aug. 5, 2020.
Stryker will be buried in San Antonio, Texas. The date has yet to be determined.
“Welcome back to the mainland, Sergeant Stryker! You were never forgotten!” wrote one person on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook.
Another person wrote: “So thankful another hero is home to finally rest in eternal peace after his long-awaited journey.”
U.S. Army Pfc. Morris E. Swackhammer, 20, of Binghamton, New York, was killed during World War II.
In August 1944, his unit landed on the southern coast of France as part of Operation DRAGOON.
That November, Swackhammer’s unit engaged in a heavy firefight with enemy troops in a wooded area northwest of Fraize, a village in the Alsace region.
The young soldier was hit by a stream of bullets from a German machine gun. His squad recovered his body but had to leave it behind due to the strength of the enemy attack.
After Fraize was liberated, Swackhammer’s body was unable to be located. German troops or residents of Fraize removed it.
Following exhaustive historical research and correlation of various U.S. military and French civilian sources, DPAA officials concluded the remains designated as X-756 were strongly associated with Swackhammer. X-756 was exhumed in July 2019 and transferred to the DPAA laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for analysis.
Swackhammer, who had been assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, was finally accounted for on June 28, 2021.
He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
“Welcome home Private Swackhammer. You were never forgotten. Rest forevermore amidst your fellow American warriors at Arlington,” wrote one person on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Hugh R. Alexander, 43, was killed during World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions in saving the lives of several fellow crew members.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Alexander was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft. After the battleship was hit by multiple torpedoes, the ship quickly capsized. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Alexander.
From December 1941 to June 1944, Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew, which were subsequently interred in the Halawa and Nu’uanu Cemeteries.
In September 1947, tasked with recovering and identifying fallen U.S. personnel in the Pacific Theater, members of the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) disinterred the remains of U.S. casualties from the two cemeteries and transferred them to the Central Identification Laboratory at Schofield Barracks.
At the time, the laboratory staff was only able to confirm the identifications of 35 men from the USS Oklahoma. The AGRS subsequently buried the unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP), known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
In October 1949, a military board classified those who could not be identified as non-recoverable, including Alexander.
Between June and November 2015, DPAA personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma Unknowns from the Punchbowl for analysis.
Alexander was accounted for on Feb. 17, 2021.
Alexander of Potters Mills, Pennsylvania, will be buried in San Diego.
“Welcome home, Commander; you were never forgotten! Thank you for your valor on that terrible day. Rest forevermore in eternal peace in San Diego,” wrote one person on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook.
Army Cpl. Benjamin R. Bazzell, 18, of Seymour, Connecticut, was killed during the Korean War.
Bazzell, a member of Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, was killed in action on Nov. 30, 1950, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Following the battle, his remains could not be recovered.
His remains were among those in the 55 boxes turned over during the 2018 summit. When the remains arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Aug. 1, 2018, they were transferred to the DPAA laboratory for identification.
Scientists from the DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System worked together using anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence, along with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y chromosome (Y-STR), and autosomal DNA (auSTR) analysis to identify Bazzell.
Bazzell, who was accounted for on April 16, 2020, will be buried in Kent, Washington. A date has not yet been set.
U.S. Army Pfc. Anthony F. Mendonca, 28, of Waipahu, Hawaii, was killed during World War II.
In June 1944, Mendonca was a member of Company A, 106th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division, when American forces participated in the battle for Saipan, part of a larger operation to secure the Mariana Islands. Mendonca was killed during fighting on June 28. His remains were not recovered.
Remains identified as Unknown X-10 were first reported as buried in Army Cemetery #1 on Saipan on July 10, 1944. The remains were disinterred sometime later and interred in the Fort William McKinley Cemetery, now the American Battle Monuments Commission’s (ABMC) Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, in the Philippines on Feb. 5, 1952.
After thorough historical research, it was determined that X-10 could likely be identified. On Jan. 20, 2019, Unknown X-10 was disinterred and sent to the DPAA Laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis.
To identify Mendonca’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
He was accounted for on April 9, 2020. He was buried on Dec. 16, 2021, at the NMCP in Honolulu.
“Welcome home Pfc. Mendonca” wrote someone on the Defense POW/MIA Facebook. “You are not forgotten.”