REMINDER: Screening of Honoring a Commitment available online

REMINDER: At 4 p.m. (ET) today, there will be a special documentary screening of Honoring a Commitment: The Story of PFC Gordon, co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation and National Review.

It will also be available live online at this link.

At the conclusion of the film, there will be a Q and A session with the producer and members of the Gordon family as well as others involved in the story.

For those who give the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country, a commitment is made in return. That commitment is a promise well-understood both inside and outside of the military, regardless of service. That promise is “dead or alive, no one is left behind.”

The identification and recovery of a soldier’s remains from the battlefield so they may be returned to the family is an elemental part of American military culture. The story of the identification and recovery of the remains of PFC Gordon is one of a soldier’s long journey home; a journey that led his family across Europe and North America in their determined effort to find him.

PFC Lawrence S. Gordon was a Canadian citizen who joined the U.S. Army shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941. On August 13, 1944 as a member of the Reconnaissance Company, 32nd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division, he lost his life in Normandy. His family was informed by the War Department that he was “Missing in Action,” but they never found out what happened to his body.

Honoring a Commitment is a feature length documentary about the Gordon family’s search for PFC Gordon. The story leads us through many twists and turns, culminating with the discovery that PFC Gordon’s body had been mistakenly buried in a German cemetery in France for almost 70 years. This unique story of a solder in World War II is told mostly through the eyes of his nephew and namesake, Lawrence R. Gordon.

The Insanity Chronicles

Forty years of failure, two years of “reorganization” and it never dawns on them to change the way they do things.

Here’s one reader’s comment on how the reorganization is going.  How many of the players can you identify?

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Bud Kelder Identified – More JPAC Games

A lot has happened in the three weeks since JPAC claims to have identified the remains of my Cousin, Arthur H. “Bud” Kelder.

The entire family was thrilled to think that Bud would soon be home and our battle with the Department of Defense would be over. It wasn’t to be, though. We were originally told that in about four weeks we would receive a family briefing detailing how the remains were identified. In the meantime, they refused to provide us with their identification documents and they asked the Court to dismiss our lawsuit. That was our first clue that perhaps something was not as it appeared and we made it plain that we expected to receive the proof of the identification immediately.

We received the 138 page identification package at 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. At 4:30 a.m. the next morning we received another email asking us to complete the multiple attached forms accepting their identification.

Frankly, we were ready to accept their identification as we didn’t see any problem in the ID package, but I shared it with a few experts in the field and it didn’t take them long to start pointing out the discrepancies. Much of it is highly technical and still over my head, but most of the issues concerned what was not included. There was no evidence that any of the other nine Unknowns had been identified. In fact, there was nothing to indicate that any DNA testing had been done on them. The military regulations require that all remains be examined and identified at the same time so it was a little odd that they not only had not identified the other nine, but they had not even yet exhumed four of them.

And then we found that they really were not going to return Bud’s remains. They proposed to return three long bones, a skull and a handful of tiny bones. This, despite all ten of the remains being anatomically complete when they were recovered. There was a note, though saying that they expected to find more remains – these had been spread across three caskets – and the additional remains would be shipped to us. Kind of an installment plan delivery at some unspecified time in the future.

Again, this was in violation of the military regulations, but what really tipped us off was when we found that they had no statutory authority to make an identification without the family’s concurrence – yet they wanted the Court to believe it was a done deal. Now the Armed Forces Medical Examiner could conduct an autopsy and certify the identity of the remains, but that would require someone putting their signature – and medical credentials – on the line and no one apparently wanted to do that.

Just to put this all in context, you may remember that in early December of last year, another family had intervened in my existing lawsuit. They were believed to be one of seven possible families of an Unknown recovered from a B24 crash. The remains had been exhumed in 2003 and one family told that they were not a match. Now, within a week of intervening in the litigation, this second family was told that they were not a match, either. So that left five possibles – all of whom had family reference samples on file – and JPAC wouldn’t say if any of them were a DNA match. Under the circumstances, one might think that perhaps there may have been a prior mis-identification and these remains were actually those of a crewmember who had previously been identified. It was all a little suspicious and the family didn’t buy the government’s non-identification and did not withdraw their suit as the government lawyers had asked.

Then, in early January of this year, another family notified the U.S. Government that they also intended to intervene in my lawsuit. Their family member had died during the Battle of Bataan and been buried in Abucay. After the war, the remains were recovered from the Abucay Church Cemetery and identified. However, because this man had been awarded the first Medal of Honor of WWII, someone thought they had better be absolutely sure of the identity and they conducted a second investigation. This second investigation found a discrepancy between the estimated height of the skeletal remains and the known pre-death height. Ultimately, these remains were buried as an Unknown in the Manila American Cemetery. A few years later, the anthropologist who supervised all the WWII identification efforts published new tables to be used for estimating height and proved that the tables previously in use underestimated height by several inches. But, by this time, all the records had been classified and hidden away from public view so this man remains an Unknown.

Perhaps it was the Medal of Honor that got their attention, because even before this family could file their motion with the Court, the government claimed to have identified Bud Kelder. Of course, they argued that since he was identified there was no longer any grounds for a lawsuit. Neither would there be a lawsuit for the Medal of Honor family to intervene in.

Are you getting the picture, here? For six months, the government had claimed they could not identify Bud Kelder’s remains because the remains had been treated with an embalming compound – that didn’t even exist until after the Second World War. Now, suddenly, they could identify him – at least a couple of parts of him and they wanted everyone to trust them that the rest would be along shortly.

Since then, a third family has moved to intervene. Their family member had been buried in Cabanatuan Grave number 822 – just eight graves over from Bud Kelder in grave 717.

So we are not much closer to identifying the remains of Bud Kelder than we were a few weeks ago. What we do know from the partial records we obtained as part of the identification package is that this project has used more than thirty percent – probably more than forty percent – of the annual DNA test capacity of the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL). And even with that effort, the techniques they were using were unable to make valid identifications of even two sets of skeletal remains. Fat chance they would ever reach their congressionally mandated goal of 200 per year. Perhaps they need to fire the lawyers and hire some more scientists.

Stay tuned, folks.

February Newsletter from National Alliance of Families

The February newsletter from the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen was published today.  If anyone was foolish enough to think that the Department of Defense would actually reform its MIA accounting process, this newsletter should dispel any such notion.

Call it anything you want – JPAC, DPMO, DPAA – it doesn’t change the fact that it exists solely for the self-aggrandizement for a few highly placed government beaurocrats and their tame MIA family members who make it possible and call the shots.

More failure and delay in MIA Accounting

Events this week confirm that the JPAC/DPMO “reorganization” has failed as Ms. Alisa Stack, a/k/a Ms. Steak, who bit off more than she could chew, adds another failure to her resume and a new team of chair warmers move in. After spending more than $10,000,000 on a nearly two year public relations effort to convince MIA families that no man will be left behind, it apparently still has not occurred to anyone to try changing the way JPAC/DPMO/New Agency does business.

While a number of professionals have or intend to depart, so far the only person actually fired has been the disgraced Dr. Tom Holland, who was the principal architect of JPAC’s “skim-the-cream-of-the-cases-and-claim-success” approach to MIA accounting. Rumor is that Major General McKleague, commander of the failed agency who has been appointed deputy chair warmer in the new agency, actually wants to bring Holland back.

So here we are, more than two years after the Secretary of Defense claims to have seen the light and promised reform at what had become a dumping ground for the department’s duds, jerks, liars and perverts who paid out millions in settlements for sexual harassment, assaults and retaliation. Two years during which the only men identified and returned to their families were those given to them by civilian organizations or retrieved from CIL’s storage closet. Two years and the new agency doesn’t yet have a name, a permanent leader, or a new way of doing business.

Its not like it has been a total waste, the good news is we will get new logos, new agencies, and new slogans in the near future. All this at the bargin price of only twenty million taxpayer dollars.

Here’s what the media has had to say.

 

JPAC Reform Has Failed

Todays’ Stars & Stripes story confirms what has been obvious for some time.  Even after two years of fumbling around, the Department of Defense still hasn’t figured out how to reorganize, reform or fix JPAC.

The problem isn’t in finding the remains of America’s missing servicemen or employing the latest technology to identify them.  The problem is the lack of will to address the bloated and self-serving beaurocracy which has grown and festered.  Nothing is fixed by keeping the same failed policies and shameless people and giving the agency a new name.

Come on, DoD, give it up, admit you’ve failed, and get some new people in there.

 

Key JPAC scientific experts to be cut in reform

HONOLULU — A program that provides dozens of scientists and other experts to the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command is being cut.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the move comes at the same time that Congress is seeking more recoveries and identifications from JPAC, whose headquarters and main lab are at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

As part of a Pentagon reorganization effort, 50 Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education fellows who assist JPAC are being let go. JPAC is responsible for finding, recovering and identifying missing-in-action service members.

The Pentagon says only a half-dozen current or new Oak Ridge fellows will be retained.

Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost says a careful review on how the program is used is required for “prudent use of government resources.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2014/12/28/key-jpac-scientific-experts-to-be-cut-in-reform/20974015/

Another family joins lawsuit against JPAC for recovery of remains from WWII

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Another family has filed suit against the Defense Department POW/MIA accounting agencies seeking the identification and return of remains.

Sally Hill Jones — niece and next of kin of a missing World War II Army Air Forces B-24 gunner — filed suit without the assistance of an attorney on Dec. 4 in a Texas district court, according to documents. Jones seeks to join John Eakin in suing the government over remains she thinks could belong to her uncle, Staff Sgt. Carl Holley.

Holley was one of 10 reportedly killed on April 18, 1944, when the B-24 bomber “Sweepy-Time” Gal was shot down by Japanese Zeroes off the coast of Hong Kong. Four bodies were recovered after the crash, and three allegedly have been identified, according to Jones, former Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command investigators and accounting documents.

The unidentified remains were buried at Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, called the Punchbowl, until 2005, when they were exhumed by JPAC.

The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory have tried to use DNA testing to identify the remains but have been unable to do so, according to internal emails and documents.

In 2012, after years of JPAC denials, Eakin sued for the remains of his cousin, Pvt. Arthur “Bud” Kelder, who, evidence suggested, was buried as an unknown in the Philippines. As a result, the Defense Department exhumed 10 sets of remains in August and is actively working to make identifications.

Jones said she had been pursuing the case since 2001, but couldn’t get answers until she filed her lawsuit. The accounting community finally responded to her, but she was not satisfied.

The government has until Jan. 16 to respond to her suit, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Daryl Fields.

“I don’t have faith in JPAC to make the ID, given their track record,” Jones said.

She hoped that by suing, she could open the door for other families.

“I’d like to see an attorney take this on as a class action,” she said. “There are a lot of older folks whose siblings died in World War II, and they don’t know what happened to them. But they could know. It’s heartbreaking.”

Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, of the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, declined to comment in an email to Stars and Stripes, citing the ongoing litigation.

However, Jones provided documents and emails to Stars and Stripes that show the JPAC-CIL and AFDIL are using an untested, next-generation mitochondrial DNA approach with the remains. They believe they have a result, but the procedure hasn’t been validated yet.

Jones has been told the validation and an identification could come early next year.

Mark Leney, JPAC’s former DNA manager, who is now at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, had undertaken the case before he left JPAC in 2006. He said the remains appeared to have been treated with a chemical — possibly formaldehyde — that made the identification difficult at the time. However, he believed that issue had been resolved in recent years by technological advancements.

“That was eight years ago,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like they’ve gone very far.”

Leney said mitochondrial DNA testing is “not a very strong method” in making identifications and works best in exclusions.

Jones started her quest for an ID more than a decade ago. Her mother has since died.

Louis Mroz, younger brother of 2nd Lt. John Mroz, who also died in the plane crash and is one of the seven missing, had been leading efforts to compel the government to make an identification but is now 86 and in poor health. He said he has been turned away by JPAC several times when seeking answers.

“I’d like to see some new sources of information,” he said.

Jones hopes her suit can spur identifications before the memories fade — like Mroz’s recollection of his brother building him a P-40 Warhawk model airplane just before he shipped out.

“He was quite a guy,” Mroz said of his brother. “He always had time to help me. … I’m 86 years old, but the memories are still fresh in my mind.”

burke.matt@stripes.com

http://www.stripes.com/another-family-joins-lawsuit-against-jpac-for-recovery-of-remains-from-wwii-1.320590