Re­mains of lost ser­vice­men are in­creas­ingly IDd

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - By Scott McFetridge Scott McFetridge is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

BELLEVUE, Neb. — Nearly 77 years af­ter re­peated tor­pedo strikes tore into the Ok­la­homa, killing hun­dreds of sailors and Marines, Car­rie Brown leaned over the re­mains of a ser­vice­man laid out on a ta­ble in her lab and was sur­prised the bones still smelled of burn­ing oil from that hor­rific day at Pearl Har­bor.

It was a vis­ceral re­minder of the cat­a­strophic at­tack that pulled the United States into World War II, and it added an in­ti­macy to the painstak­ing work Brown and hun­dreds of oth­ers are now do­ing to greatly in­crease the num­ber of lost Amer­i­can ser­vice­men who have been iden­ti­fied.

It’s a mon­u­men­tal mis­sion that com­bines science, his­tory and in­tu­ition, and it’s one Brown and her col­leagues have re­cently been com­plet­ing at ramped-up speed, with iden­ti­fi­ca­tions ex­pected to reach 200 an­nu­ally, more than triple the fig­ures from re­cent years.

“There are fam­i­lies still car­ry­ing the torch,” said Brown, a foren­sic an­thro­pol­o­gist with the De­fense POW/ MIA Ac­count­ing Agency’s lab near Omaha, Neb.

Of­fi­cials be­lieve re­mains of nearly half of the 83,000 uniden­ti­fied ser­vice mem­bers killed in World War II and more re­cent wars could be iden­ti­fied and re­turned to rel­a­tives. The mod­ern ef­fort to iden­tify re­mains started in 1973 and was pri­mar­ily based in Hawaii un­til a se­cond lab was opened in 2012 at Of­futt Air Force Base in Omaha.

With an in­ten­si­fied push, the iden­ti­fi­ca­tions climbed from 59 in 2013 to 183 last year and at least 200 this year.

The in­crease has led to a surge of long-de­layed memo­rial ser­vices and buri­als across the coun­try as fam­i­lies and en­tire com­mu­ni­ties turn out to honor those killed.

The soar­ing num­ber of iden­ti­fi­ca­tions fol­lowed years of com­plaints about a cum­ber­some process, typ­i­cally re­sult­ing in about 60 com­pleted cases an­nu­ally. Congress re­sponded by set­ting a goal of 200 iden­ti­fi­ca­tions an­nu­ally, and it sup­ported a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion and in­creased fund­ing that saw spend­ing climb from $80.8 mil­lion in the 2010 fis­cal year to $143.9 mil­lion in 2018.

The ef­fort now em­ploys about 600 peo­ple.

DNA is key to iden­ti­fi­ca­tions, but it can’t be ex­tracted from all bones, and with­out a match from po­ten­tial rel­a­tives, it has lit­tle value.

In some cases, lab work­ers re­fer to stan­dard chest X-rays of World War II ser­vice­men taken when they en­listed, fo­cus­ing on the traits of the col­lar­bones shown. An al­go­rithm de­vel­oped by the Univer­sity of Ne­braska-Omaha helps work­ers make com­par­isons of re­mains in min­utes.

Nati Harnik / As­so­ci­ated Press

Foren­sic an­thro­pol­o­gist Car­rie Brown points to the vic­tims of the bat­tle­ship Ok­la­homa, sunk at Pearl Har­bor. An in­crease in iden­ti­fi­ca­tions has led to a surge of memo­rial ser­vices and buri­als.

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