Holland Firing Postscript

Many readers have inquired about the “personnel changes” we told you about a few days ago. While Holland announced his dismissal before a large room full of people and confirmed it with the petition and letter writing campaign by his supporters, some of the others – Byrd, Belcher, McKeague and Webb – are denying that they have been fired and they are correct, for now. Our apologies if we weren’t clear about that, we just said it was widely expected and it still is expected.

Holland is a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) and, unlike lesser civilian employees, can be dismissed without notice or cause. McKeague is an Air Force Major General and will not be the commander of what for now is being called the New Defense Agency which will replace JPAC and DPMO on January 1, 2015. DASD Winfield, a political appointee, will not be needed by the new agency, either.

That leaves Byrd, Belcher and Webb, all GS employees. They won’t be needed by the New Defense Agency, either. The new agency will be transitioning to a new way of doing business and making identifications which does not rely on anthropologists. The anthropologists who are left can expect to spend much more time deployed than in the lab. (Even now, the CIL anthros average less than one identification per year.)

The question is not if they will be leaving, but under what circumstances and how many others will go with them. If you read the interim OIG report which was widely circulated a few weeks ago (and was to be released several weeks ago), you may have noticed the brevity of several sections. One section that was glossed over pertained to the use of DNA in identifications. You can expect to see and hear much more about this issue between now and the first of next year.  The identification process will be moving from the 19th Century to somewhere in the late 20th Century and will require minimal input from anthropologists.

Besides a section on travel and expense irregularities, there was also a rather brief reference to misconduct including sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Approximately 50 current and former members of the MIA accounting community have submitted complaints to the DoD IG and Congress regarding various alleged leadership and management derelictions and abuse. Most of these allegations dealt with JPAC and the CIL

The assessment team contacted and interviewed all complainants referred to the OIG by Congress. While the team was at JPAC and the CIL in February and March 2014, approximately 45 people contacted the team to submit complaints about JPAC and CIL management. The team interviewed many of the complainants at off-site locations.

The assessment team forwarded the allegations to the DoD Hotline for investigation and adjudication.

Taken together, the complaints paint a picture of long-term leadership and management problems resulting in a hostile and dysfunctional work environment, and low morale throughout the accounting community.

If left uncorrected, the problems driving these complaints will be brought into the new Defense agency created by the reorganization of the accounting community as announced by the Secretary of Defense on March 31, 2014, hindering mission accomplishment.

Some of these issues will be addressed when the final report is issued. However, there are multiple additional OIG investigations in to these other areas and these investigations are ongoing. There will definitely be new faces at the new agency. We’ll have to wait to see if there will also be a new way of doing business.

And just as an interesting side note. The letters supporting Holland seem to be having an opposite and unintended effect. They all follow the same script – these are supposedly senior level people and they seem unable to compose an original letter. They all concentrate on Holland’s many awards and what a good guy he is and completely ignore his organizations’ shameful lack of success at accounting for missing American Servicemembers or the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars which have been squandered. The tone of the letters seems to be don’t fire the anthropologists because we can do the job better than the Armed Forces Medical Examiner. Unfortunately for the anthros, they seem to be their own worse enemy.


JPAC Dishonors All Who Have Worn the Uniform

In 2009, when I first started looking for information on my MIA Cousin, I had no idea that I would actually find his remains – or even that his remains could be found. Nor, did I expect to end up in the middle of the huge mess that the POW/MIA issue has become. I just thought it would be nice to include a little information about him in the family archives.

When I first obtained his Individual Deceased Personnel File, it may have taken all of ten minutes to figure out that he was one of ten possible Unknowns. Most of those ten minutes were spent scratching my head thinking that it couldn’t be this simple to find a grave that the U.S. Government had repeatedly told my Aunt and Uncle didn’t exist.

At that time I believed the cow manure slogans posted everywhere by JPAC and DPMO. Until they are home is one of them and it seems fitting – these bureaucrats have a job for life until *they* are home. It took two phone calls to learn that my Cousin’s older Brother was a dentist and he had replaced all of his silver fillings with gold inlays – a little bit of information that graves registration had failed to ask for. I had no idea when I gave this information to the Army Casualty Office that only one of the ten possible Unknowns had gold inlays. Considering the rarity of gold inlays, that’s a pretty good indicator of which remains were those of Arthur H. “Bud” Kelder. It was much better evidence than the Army had accepted on the more than 1,800 identifications (out of 2,655) from Cabanatuan.

Since then, the Department of Defense has worked, not to identify and return Bud’s remains, but to avoid doing so. When they didn’t act on their own, I filed a formal petition for a review board. Army wouldn’t act on that and sent me to DPMO. DPMO claims they never received the petition I sent or that Army had forwarded to them. That’s when I filed suit in Federal Court.

Unbeknownst to me, JPAC, bless them, did act. Three of their own investigators had worked on the case and recommended that the remains be disinterred for identification. Tom Holland ignored them and recommended that no action be taken. His boss, Major General Kelly McKeague concurred and forwarded the file to DPMO – where it sat for sixteen months without action. Holland and McKeague kind of neglected to provide their investigators reports to the Federal Court – just an oversight, I’m sure. However, those three investigators were so outraged by Holland and McKeague’s conduct that they sent me copies.

Between then and when they were backed in to a corner and knew they were going to have to produce the remains for DNA testing, I heard every excuse and was the butt of repeated slams by the nameless bureaucrats of JPAC and DPMO.

They still insist that my family is trying to “cut the line” and get ahead of other Unknowns that they plan to recover. Right, sure they are, seventy frigging years and they haven’t done diddly to recover any of the Unknowns. Show me where the line is and I’ll get in it.

My favorite was that exhumation would somehow defile the “sanctity of the grave.” That sounds good until one realizes that Bud Kelder had been buried five times. Most recently, he was moved to another grave that had been vacated. The cemetery can’t move “knowns” because the families know what grave they are supposed to be in and they don’t want to defile the sanctity of the grave. But Unknowns are fair game to use for landscaping purposes.

There were, and continue to be, all sorts of excuses, but my favorite is when JPAC insisted to the Court that they had no obligation to identify Unknowns. They admit that the families have a legal and moral right to claim the remains, but not until the remains are identified. Seems like at least one Federal Judge thinks the evidence is sufficient to identify the remains and they should be returned.

Sorry if I sound angry, because I’m not. I’m just really, really disappointed in my government and the Army that I served in. IMHO, the sorry bastards that run JPAC dishonor the memory of every American hero who gave his all for our country.


JPAC Lab Boss Tom Holland Fired, Others Expected to Follow

This week, Dr. Thomas D. Holland, Scientific Director & Deputy to the Commander for Central Identification Laboratory Operations, announced that he has been dismissed effective January 1, 2015. Sources said that Holland’s subordinates, Dr. John Byrd, Director of JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory and his deputy Dr. William Belcher, were also being dismissed.

It is widely expected that Maj. Gen. Kelly K. McKeague, JPAC Commander and Mr. Johnie E. Webb, Deputy to the Commander for External Relations and Legislative Affairs will also be removed along with others being held responsible for failing to recover the remains of missing American Servicemembers.

While it appears that Holland was given the opportunity to go quietly, he appears intent on totally disgracing himself by forcing the Department of Defense to publicly reveal the details of a major investigation conducted by the DoD Inspector General.

In spite of instructions not to do so, Holland pseudo tearfully announced his firing to several hundred Korean War MIA families gathered in Washington for briefings on the progress of efforts to recover their missing family members. Holland has also encouraged his subordinates to organize a letter writing campaign directed at Secretary of Defense Hagel and members of Congress. These letters all appear to have used the same script and praise Holland’s many awards, but fail to note that he has squandered hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and has few identifications to show for it. Last year his lab identified only fifty-five MIA’s and so far this year only twenty-five. Nor do the letter writers note that the CIL has nearly two-thousand sets of remains backlogged in their warehouse.

Along with Holland, most observers also credit Johnie Webb with the abject failure of the Department of Defense to recover the remains of the fallen from America’s wars. Webb, is a retired U.S. Army officer who has been continuously associated with JPAC and the predecessor agencies since 1975.

Exhumation of Grave 717, Part II

There is a lot more to the story of the exhumation of the Unknowns originally buried in Cabanatuan Grave 717.

In general, the men who were buried at Cabanatuan and their remains not identified were those for whom no dental records were available. Most often these were the men who had been in the Army for the shortest time and who had not been to a military dentist as in most cases the Army didn’t bother to request civilian dental records.

However, the case of Arthur H. “Bud” Kelder had a unique twist to it – his older Brother, Herman Kelder was a dentist. In fact, the address of his dental office was listed as the next-of-kin’s address. But instead of asking the family to provide dental records, the Army repeatedly told Private Kelder’s family that there were no remains to return to them for burial.

So when Kelder’s Cousin, John Eakin, received Kelder’s Individual Deceased Personnel File in 2009, it was obvious what had happened and where his remains were. It took Eakin two phone calls to learn that in 1936, right after graduating from dental school, Herman had replaced his younger Brother’s silver fillings with gold inlays. A few weeks later, the “X-files” on the men buried in Grave 717 were obtained and only one of the remains had gold inlays – Manila #2 X816.

So, while there was now considerably more evidence of the identity of X816 than had been required to identify any of the other men who died at Cabanatuan, the Department of Defense refused to act to return the remains to the Kelder family. Eakin first petitioned the Army for a review board, which was rejected without action. Then the Defense POW/MIA Office “lost” the next petition so Eakin filed suit in Federal Court.

Actually, this was Eakin’s second lawsuit, the first was needed just to obtain the files on unidentified WWII service members. When these records were obtained, it was obvious that there were thousands of other American GI’s who could have been, but were not identified and returned to their families.

So the second lawsuit hoped to not just recover the remains of Bud Kelder, but also to open the door for other MIA families to recover the remains of their loved ones.

From the beginning, the government lawyers sought to delay and throw up procedural roadblocks to the lawsuit. But thanks to the assistance of a number of people who detested JPAC’s deceit and withholding of evidence and secretly provided the missing documents, it became obvious that the government was not going to play by the rules. The Court must have sensed what was going on and signaled that they would look favorably on a request for DNA testing of the remains.

Faced with an almost certain court order to produce the remains, the government suddenly decided to exhume the remains. They hoped to accomplish two things by doing this before being ordered by the Court. First, it allowed them to control the exhumations and the timing and content of any identification announcement. Even though JPAC has actively fought against identification of the men buried in Grave 717 and issued a number of press releases and court filings, they have yet to acknowledge those little details.

But most of all, by voluntarily exhuming the Grave 717 Unknowns, the government hopes to avoid addressing Eakin’s request that the court order DoD to give other families an opportunity to recover the remains of their loved ones. The situation is now such that upon completion of DNA testing of X816, Eakin’s lawsuit will become moot and because he is not represented by an attorney he is precluded from arguing on behalf of other families. Other MIA families – even those who know exactly where the remains of their loved ones rest – will have to, just like Eakin, go through a protracted battle to obtain what is legally and morally theirs.

The government has had seventy years to return these men to their families for burial and to give the families final closure. It hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen unless the families make it happen.

OSD Statement on X-816 Remains – Family Response

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                      June 28, 2014

John Eakin, bataanmissing@gmail.com, 210-695-2204

The family of Private Arthur H. “Bud” Kelder, one of the WWII POW’s known to have been buried in Cabanatuan POW Camp grave 717 more than seventy years ago, is overjoyed to learn that the U.S. Department of Defense is finally going to return the remains of our missing family member for burial.

We wish to correct some factual errors in the government’s official statement. Exhumation of the remains of these Unknowns is not being done because it is the right thing to do, rather, these remains are being returned in response to our family’s lawsuit against the U.S. Government.

On June 27, 2014, Navy Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost, released the following statement on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense:

“Based upon forensic and historical input from JPAC and DPMO, this month the Army concurred with the recommendation to disinter unknown remains referred to as “X-816″, as well as the other unknown remains previously interred in Common Grave 717, given the probability the remains are commingled. Planning is underway and the timeline is still being worked. The disinterment decision was based upon a forensic and historical review by JPAC and DoD that included a number of factors, to include the development of new techniques not available in the 1940s and 1950s (e.g., osteometric sorting, DNA analysis, etc.) and the possibility of multiple identifications if all ten Unknowns are disinterred.”

This exhumation is not because of a forensic and historical review by JPAC. Our family provided the evidence of these identities nearly five years ago and the Department of Defense has consistently denied that these remains were those of the men they now admit that they are. These remains are being exhumed from their graves in the Manila American Cemetery only because the Department of Defense is required to produce them in a Federal Court proceeding. If there was a forensic review as they claim, it was conducted by their lawyers who knew their position was unsustainable.

While at least three government investigators, as well as independent experts, had recommended disinterment and identification of these remains years ago, the management of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) had blocked any such action. On January 28, 2013, Dr. Thomas D. Holland, the JPAC Scientific Director, wrote, “No definitive individual associations could be established based on the available documentation.” He went on to say, “the existing and available data do not meet the level of scientific certainty required by current DoD disinterment guidance.”

On January 30, 2013, Major General Kelly K. McKeague, Commander of JPAC, refused to make a decision in this case as required by DoD policy and instead forwarded the case file to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for POW/Missing Personnel Office for decision. He included the comment, “The challenge is that this case does not meet current Department of Defense policy for the disinterment of Unknown Remains in that no reasonable association of the Unknown Remains to a specific individual can be established with a high degree of certainty prior to approval for disinterment.”

General McKeague’s recommendation sat on the desk of Major General (Ret) W Montague Winfield for sixteen months until, faced with a court order and the possibility of serious sanctions, the government suddenly decided that contrary to what it had been arguing for nearly five years, perhaps this group of remains did meet the standard for disinterment and return to their families.

We now call on the government to make the process transparent and allow a member of our family to escort the remains and independent experts to observe the identification process.

The Department of Defense has consistently claimed that the mitochondrial DNA identification process they use is not appropriate for use with WWII era remains and we concur in that it is insufficiently discriminatory to conclusively prove the identifications, is time consuming and unnecessarily damages the remains. By JPAC’s own admission, it takes them an average of eleven years to make an identification and they have a backlog of nearly two thousand sets of unidentified remains stored in their warehouse in cardboard boxes.

This is unacceptable and we demand that the more modern, highly discriminatory and quicker nuclear DNA technique, available only in independent laboratories, be used. Independent laboratories using the nuclear DNA process have provided conclusive identifications in as little as seven days.

The American public deserves better treatment than our family has received at the hands of our government. The government must stop the lies and deceit. They should show us their new forensic and historical review or admit that this identification is based on the evidence we gave them years ago and have had to fight to make them recognize. We demand:

  • The Department of Defense insure that due process is available to the families of all of America’s missing so that they do not have to repeat the long and costly court battle that we have fought to bury these men who gave their all for our country;
  • The Department of Defense form an independent oversight board comprised of current and former MIA family members, and
  • The persons involved in obstructing the return of the remains of our family member – Johnie Webb, Dr. Thomas D. Holland, and Major General Kelly K. McKeague, all of whom have a long history of obstructing the return of fallen American heroes, must be removed from their positions to insure that other POW/MIA families are treated with the courtesy and respect they deserve.

This will be a hollow victory for MIA families unless the U.S. Government undertakes substantial and meaningful reforms of the MIA accounting process.

# # #

Cabanatuan Grave 717 Being Exhumed

Faced with a certain Federal Court order to produce the remains of Private Arthur H. “Bud” Kelder, the Department of Defense preemptively decided to exhume all ten of the Unknowns originally buried in Grave 717 of the Cabanatuan POW Camp in the Philippines.

Having exhausted all of their procedural challenges to the lawsuit brought by Kelder’s Cousin, John Eakin, the U.S. Government decided to exhume and examine the remains themselves rather than lose control of the process.

After the war, Grave 717 was opened and four of the fourteen sets of remains were identified and returned to the States for burial by their families. While the prisoners had kept meticulous records of burials and they knew who was buried in each grave, Army Graves Registration personnel were unable to individually identify their remains and they were buried in individual graves in what is now the Manila American Cemetery operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

The men in Grave 717 who were returned to their families for burial included:

  • PFC Daniel C. Bain
  • Sergeant Lawrence K. Hanscom
  • PFC Juan E. Gutierrez
  • PFC Harvey A. Nichols

The others, who were buried as Unknowns, included:

  • Civilian George York Sr.
  • Corporal John W. Ruark
  • Corporal George G. Simmons
  • Corporal Frederick G. Collins
  • PFC Lloyd J. Lobdell
  • Pvt Charles M. Waid
  • Pvt Arthur H. Kelder
  • Pvt John Kovach
  • Pvt Harold B. Hirschi
  • Pvt Evans E. Overby

All of these men perished on 19 and 20 November 1942 due to the brutal conditions under which they were imprisoned by the Imperial Japanese Army. They were then all interred in communal grave number 717.

The exhumation process was planned to begin on August 12, 2014 and take two to three weeks. After which, all ten remains are to be flown to Hawaii for examination at the Central Identification Laboratory operated by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC). DNA testing will be performed by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) at Dover AFB, Delaware.


Bosnia Identifies Their MIA’s – Why Not the U.S.?

From: OpsNewsTicker
Sent: Friday, July 11, 2014 11:40 AM Egypt Standard Time
Subject: Bosnian mom buries 2 sons 19 years after massacre (AP)
SARAJEVO (AP) - After 19 years, Hajrija Selimovic will finally have a place to mourn her family on Friday.

Selimovic was reburying her husband and two sons under white tombstones in a cemetery for victims of the Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

The three were among the 8,000 Muslim men and boys killed when Serb forces overran the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995. Samir was 23 and Nermin was 19 when the execution squad shot them.

The remains of Srebrenica victims are still being found in mass graves and identified using DNA technology. Every July 11, more are buried at a memorial center near the town.

This year, Selimovic’s two sons will be among the 175 newly identified victims laid to rest, joining 6,066 others including their father Hasan, who was found in 2001 but buried only last year.

“I didn’t want to bury him because they found only his head and a few little bones,” Selimovic said. “I waited, thinking the rest will be found and then everything can be buried at once … but there was nothing else and we buried what we had.”

The eastern, Muslim-majority town of Srebrenica was a U.N.-protected area besieged by Serb forces throughout Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. But U.N. troops offered no resistance when the Serbs overran the town, rounding up the Muslims and killing the males. An international court later labeled the slayings as genocide.

After the massacre, then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright waved satellite photos of mass graves at the U.N. Security Council. Washington knew where the mass graves were, she told them.

That’s when Serb troops rushed to the sites with bulldozers and moved the remains to other locations. As the machines ploughed up bodies they ripped them apart, and now fragments of the same person can be scattered among several different sites.

“The perpetrators had every hope that these people would be wiped out and never found again,” said Kathryne Bomberger, head of the International Commission for Missing Persons, a Bosnia-based DNA identification project.

The commission, established in 1996, has collected almost 100,000 blood samples from relatives of the missing in the Yugoslav wars. It has analyzed their DNA profiles and is now matching them with profiles extracted from the estimated 50,000 bone samples that have been exhumed.

The group grew into the world’s largest DNA-assisted identification program. It has identified 14,600 sets of remains in Bosnia, including those of some 7,000 Srebrenica victims. The commission, which also helped identify victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami, is now identifying missing people in Libya, Iraq, Colombia, Kuwait, Philippines and South Africa.

Bosnia remains its biggest operation.

“Without DNA, we would have never been able to identify anyone,” Bomberger said Thursday. “However, this means that the families have to make the difficult decision on when to bury a person. And many of the women from Srebrenica want to bury their sons, their family members, the way they remember them when they were alive.”

So thousands of mothers and widows are faced with a dilemma whether to either bury just a fragment, or wait until more bones are found.

This year, the families of some 500 identified victims have decided not to accept just two or three bones. Those will remain stored in a mortuary in the northern city of Tuzla until more remains are found or the families get tired of waiting.

`’We calculate that there are still about 1,000 persons missing. … In addition there are probably thousands of pieces of bodies” still to find, Bomberger said. “This is an extremely complex process that has taken a long time, just simply because of the efforts the perpetrators went to to hide the bodies.”

Selimovic, who made a hard decision last year regarding her husband, said this year’s decision was easier.

“Now I am burying two sons,” she said. “They are complete. Just the younger one is missing a few fingers.”



Bogus JPAC Arrival Ceremonies

Yesterday NBC News posted a story about the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) conducting MIA arrival ceremonies with empty transfer cases.  JPAC now says the transfer cases were not empty and actually contained the remains of some previously recovered unidentified remains.  Somehow, the presence of previously returned and still unidentified human remains makes it OK to stage “arrival ceremonies.”  Perhaps they should take all of the more than 700 sets of unidentified remains stored in their lab for periodic walks to get a little sunshine and fresh air.

Here is the original web posting

It seems to me that using human remains as “props” in these arrival ceremonies is inherently disrespectful if these human remains did not just arrive on U.S. soil as is represented by ceremoniously removing them from an aircraft – after all, what’s the purpose of the aircraft? To provide shade?  The only thing the DoD response confirms is that DoD just doesn’t “get it.”

Here’s some of the press followup on the story:

Stars & Stripes

The Blaze

Here is the official video posted by the JPAC PAO - see if you think JPAC has intentionally deceived the public about actually returning remains.  Note that it is titled, “JPAC Arrival Ceremony.”

Here is JPAC’s official response to the original NBC News article.

Note that JPAC insists that human remains are present in the transfer cases, but treated with respect and dignity.  Yet, the original article includes a photograph of a stack of unattended and undraped transfer cases waiting to be loaded on a bus.