Well, here’s a recent story about how anthropologists are scouring the blood-soaked island for remains of Americans who stormed the island in a final push toward victory against Japan.
IWO JIMA, Japan (AP) — Major Sean Stinchon stands at the base of Hill 362A and scans a map drawn up by Navy Seabees in 1948 that is deeply creased and covered in reddish brown dirt. The map shows a labyrinth of caves and tunnels that runs through the brush-covered hill like the cross-section of an ant colony.
Interestingly, a Fort Smith boy — Dr. Thomas Holland — is scientific director for the Central Identification Laboratory at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base on Hawaii.
This lab is largely unheralded. The CNN piece about the search for the remains of Marine Corps Combat Photographer William H. Genaust is a prime example of the work the men and women attached to the JPAC lab do every single day.
Following the motto “Until They are Home,” JPAC, which was created in 2003, identifies about six MIAs each month — some 1,300 so far. The command, which also runs permanent branches in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, has at any given time about 1,000 active cases.
“It’s such an incredible mission,” said Lt. Col. Mark Brown, the JPAC spokesman. “There’s a lot of families who have been waiting a long time.”
In talking to Dr. Holland on a couple of occasions, and from reading his first fiction work — published by Simon & Schuster — I’ve learned that living family members can help with the identification process. Currently, the lab is seeking family reference samples from military personnel who died on foreign soil whose remains have yet to be returned home.
We can often identify individuals if we have a reference sample of a special type of DNA from surviving family members. This special DNA is called Mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, and it is inherited only from the mother. We use this type of DNA because it is long-lasting, abundant, and doesn’t change much from generation to generation.
How you can help
You may be able to help us identify America’s missing heros. If you are a family member of an individual who is Missing in Action, we may be able to use a sample of your DNA to help us with our identification process. However, we do not need a sample from just any family member – we can only use samples from family members who share the same mtDNA as the missing service member. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed on through the maternal line.
Anyone can help by selecting a casualty (perhaps from your home town, home state or a man that served in the same unit as you), and researching their family history to determine if there are living relatives who might be FRS donors. Click here for a list of Family Reference Samples (FRS) required by JPAC.
Thank you, men and women of JPAC.