While members of our family were not allowed to attend, friends in both Manila and Honolulu observed the exhumation and transfer of the remains of the ten Unknowns originally buried in Grave 717 of the Cabanatuan POW Camp Cemetery. They assured us that it was done with all the respect and dignity befitting the return of any fallen member of the military. All of the exhumations were done in one night to avoid inconvenience to daytime visitors to the cemetery. Apparently, it was quite an ordeal as some of the graves were extraordinarily deep.
All ten of the remains were transported aboard a USAF C17 transport to Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor where they were greeted with a repatriation ceremony. Again, the event was dignified and solemn.
Let’s be very clear about this, JPAC continues to contend that none of the families are allowed to observe the return of the remains until JPAC officially declares the identities. This, even though they are required by DoD policy to have “a high probability of a positive identification” before authorizing the exhumations. A seventy year record of concealing these remains from their families doesn’t end easily.
Our family took comfort in the knowledge that Bud and the other Unknowns were treated just as they would have been if they had come home in 1946. It was very kind of our friends to take the time to keep an eye on things and let us know.
Then, the public aspect of the return over, the remains were taken in to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory for examination. That’s where all similarities to the return of other Servicemembers ends. The CIL doesn’t make many identifications each year, but they have lots of visitors and they like to look busy. Here’s a photo of Dr. Tom Holland, his staff and customers in front of their glass walled display room. This is pretty impressive to visitors, but they don’t display the more than 1,300 sets of remains which they have stored in boxes.
I call the place where CIL works their display room because it certainly doesn’t look anything like the Dover Mortuary. Contrast this photo of the Dover AFB Mortuary where all other deceased Servicemembers arrive back in the States. Google “photos Dover Mortuary” and you’ll find lots of photos, but not a single body part of a deceased service member. Dover simply does not allow visitors or photographs when human remains are present.
Because the JPAC CIL has no DNA laboratory, they mutilate the remains by removing large portions from the bones. These portions are sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) located next to the Dover AFB Mortuary for DNA analysis. The DNA lab drills a tiny hole in the bone and the cuttings provide all the material needed for analysis. Somewhere between three and twelve months later, the results of the DNA analysis are compared with those of reference samples and the findings reported back to the CIL.
Contrast this to the DNA examination of PFC Lawrence Gordon who was recovered this spring. Because his remains were not interred in an American Battle Monuments Cemetery, JPAC was not allowed to direct the examination, and, in fact they failed to even show up. The civilian forensic laboratory doing this testing reported conclusive results in only five days.
I’ve said it before, JPAC is a disgrace and a stain on the honor of all who have worn the same uniform. There are a lot of good people at JPAC, the problem is the leadership. However, the good people are complicit in dishonoring the dead when they fail to speak out.