A story on the front page of the Reporter on Sept. 9 posed the question: “Have they found Sgt. Joseph W. Beard? The answer is “no.” But there’s more to the story about a soldier from Dorchester who was reportedly taken off the infamous “Bataan Death March” in the Philippines in April 1942 and sent back to work in Manila where he died two months later, according to US Army records.
As to his remains and burial site, the US Army told Staff Sgt. Beard’s mother in 1950 that after an extensive half decade of searching for that information, it had determined that her son’s remains had been irretrievably lost.
In late August, the Dorchester Historical Society received a letter from Jim Opolony, the curator of the Bataan Project, which keeps track of all manner of information related to those who were forced on the march a month before US Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and the Filipino commonwealth surrendered all their forces to the Japanese.
In his letter, which the historical society forwarded to the Reporter, Opolony wrote that, as a Bataan specialist, he had been contacted by an official with the US Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) about Sgt. Beard, a native of St. Peter’s parish. Opolony noted that the case might be considered active by the Department of Defense and that it is doing research on him. This would mean, he wrote, that officials will be attempting to find family members for DNA. “If you go to bataanproject.com and search for Joseph W. Beard, his page will come up,” he wrote. “Open the page and you can read about him.”
He added: “All I am doing is attempting to make his relatives aware that DNA is wanted so his remains will be identified and possibly returned home. In particular, children or grandchildren of his sisters will be wanted for DNA The family can initiate the testing, but does have to wait for the DPAA to contact them.”
A call to the DPAA offices in early September elicited a reply saying that the agency would respond after conducting internal inquiries of its own.
Late last month, the Reporter received the following from Sgt. First Class Sean P. Everette, a Public Affairs officer with the POW/MIA Accounting Agency:
“DPAA’s historians and analysts will regularly review the cases of service members who were declared unrecoverable back during their respective wars to determine if we might be able to identify them now. Greg Kupsky [of DPAA] did contact Mr. Opolony about his website, bataanproject.com, to ask about his source material for Sgt. Beard.
“As part of our historians’ review of unknown remains from World War II, we have been compiling information on individuals who died in the vicinity of Clark Field and Fort Stotsenburg, to include Sgt. Beard. The long-term goal is to see if we can initiate a disinterment project for some of the unknowns recovered from that area.
“We are not actively seeking DNA for these individuals yet. However, family members are welcome to contact the Army to contribute a reference sample so that we have it on file. I hope this answers your questions.”
It seems that the “irretrievably lost” message to Mrs. Beard in 1950 is being revisited by Defense Department experts in MIA searches, with family members being told they can play an active role in helping the government to do what it can, more than 78 years after the fact, to certify the closure of Joseph W. Beard’s life and death in wartime service to his country.
Following is how Beard family members can contact the department:
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 241 18th St. South, Suite 800
Arlington, VA 22202 (703)-699-1420