Last month, just before Christmas, personnel from the US Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency landed in Hawaii after a “honorable carry” flight from Manila in the Philippines accompanied by the casketed remains of some 40 unidentified members of the country’s armed forces who lost their lives, many in unknown ways, during the siege and overtaking of the island nation, then a sovereign entity of the United States, in the early months of World War II.
A story in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser early this month, on Jan. 4, noted that “the remains will be examined by forensic anthropologists and odontologists at the agency’s laboratory in Hawaii with the hope of making identifications.” The POW/MIA program is aimed at investigating, recovering, and identifying missing Americans from all past wars, according to its self-description.
In two articles and a family letter late last year, the Reporter told the story of Staff Sgt. Joseph W. Beard, a native of Dorchester and St. Peter’s parish, who died in Manila after being remanded to that city from the death march on the Bataan peninsula and whose remains were termed by the US Army as “irretrievably lost” in a letter to his mother in 1950.
While it is too early for families to receive confirmed identifications from this latest activity, its progress is certainly something all of them will be keeping an eye on.
In response to a Reporter inquiry last fall about the possible status of SSgt. Beard’s remains, Sgt. First Class Sean P. Everette, a Public Affairs officer with the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, wrote: “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.”
A letter to the Reporter in October, written by Joe Beard of Pembroke, a great-nephew of the sergeant, noted that the Beard family was actively engaged with the Department of Defense offering to help in any way its members can to clarify the status of their fallen soldier-relative 78 years and counting after his death in a faraway land fighting for his country.
The POW/MIA Accounting Agency has noted in the recent past that as far as World War II is concerned, of the 16 million Americans who served in the conflict, more than 400,000 died, that approximately 73,000 remains are still unaccounted for, and that about 30,000 of them are considered possibly recoverable.