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Exhumation of Unknowns from Cabanatuan Grave 717 (Read 4038 times)
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Exhumation of Unknowns from Cabanatuan Grave 717
Jun 28th, 2014, 2:58pm
OSD Statement on X-816 Remains – Family Response

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE      June 28, 2014

John Eakin,, 210-695-2204

The family of Private Arthur H. “Bud” Kelder, one of the WWII POW’s known to have been buried in Cabanatuan POW Camp grave 717 more than seventy years ago, is overjoyed to learn that the U.S. Department of Defense is finally going to return the remains of our missing family member for burial.

We wish to correct some factual errors in the government’s official statement.  Exhumation of the remains of these Unknowns is not being done because it is the right thing to do, rather, these remains are being returned in response to our family’s lawsuit against the U.S. Government.

On June 27, 2014, Navy Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost, released the following statement on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense:

"Based upon forensic and historical input from JPAC and DPMO, this month the Army concurred with the recommendation to disinter unknown remains referred to as "X-816", as well as the other unknown remains previously interred in Common Grave 717, given the probability the remains are commingled. Planning is underway and the timeline is still being worked. The disinterment decision was based upon a forensic and historical review by JPAC and DoD that included a number of factors, to include the development of new techniques not available in the 1940s and 1950s (e.g., osteometric sorting, DNA analysis, etc.) and the possibility of multiple identifications if all ten Unknowns are disinterred."

This exhumation is not because of a forensic and historical review by JPAC.  Our family provided the evidence of these identities nearly five years ago and the Department of Defense has consistently denied that these remains were those of the men they now admit that they are.  These remains are being exhumed from their graves in the Manila American Cemetery only because the Department of Defense is required to produce them in a Federal Court proceeding.  If there was a forensic review as they claim, it was conducted by their lawyers who knew their position was unsustainable.

While at least three government investigators, as well as independent experts, had recommended disinterment and identification of these remains years ago, the management of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) had blocked any such action.  On January 28, 2013, Dr. Thomas D. Holland, the JPAC Scientific Director, wrote, “No definitive individual associations could be established based on the available documentation.” He went on to say, “the existing and available data do not meet the level of scientific certainty required by current DoD disinterment guidance.”

On January 30, 2013, Major General Kelly K. McKeague, Commander of JPAC, refused to make a decision in this case as required by DoD policy and instead forwarded the case file to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for POW/Missing Personnel Office for decision.  He included the comment, “The challenge is that this case does not meet current Department of Defense policy for the disinterment of Unknown Remains in that no reasonable association of the Unknown Remains to a specific individual can be established with a high degree of certainty prior to approval for disinterment.”

General McKeague’s recommendation sat on the desk of Major General (Ret) W Montague Winfield for sixteen months until, faced with a court order and the possibility of serious sanctions, the government suddenly decided that contrary to what it had been arguing for nearly five years, perhaps this group of remains did meet the standard for disinterment and return to their families.

We now call on the government to make the process transparent and allow a member of our family to escort the remains and independent experts to observe the identification process.

The Department of Defense has consistently claimed that the mitochondrial DNA identification process they use is not appropriate for use with WWII era remains and we concur in that it is insufficiently discriminatory to conclusively prove the identifications, is time consuming and unnecessarily damages the remains.  By JPAC’s own admission, it takes them an average of eleven years to make an identification and they have a backlog of nearly two thousand sets of unidentified remains stored in their warehouse in cardboard boxes.  

This is unacceptable and we demand that the more modern, highly discriminatory and quicker nuclear DNA technique, available only in independent laboratories, be used.  Independent laboratories using the nuclear DNA process have provided conclusive identifications in as little as seven days.

The American public deserves better treatment than our family has received at the hands of our government.  The government must stop the lies and deceit.  They should show us their new forensic and historical review or admit that this identification is based on the evidence we gave them years ago and have had to fight to make them recognize.  We demand:

·      The Department of Defense insure that due process is available to the families of all of America’s missing so that they do not have to repeat the long and costly court battle that we have fought to bury these men who gave their all for our country;

·      The Department of Defense form an independent oversight board comprised of current and former MIA family members, and

·      The persons involved in obstructing the return of the remains of our family member – Johnie Webb, Dr. Thomas D. Holland, and Major General Kelly K. McKeague, all of whom have a long history of obstructing the return of fallen American heroes, must be removed from their positions to insure that other POW/MIA families are treated with the courtesy and respect they deserve.

This will be a hollow victory for MIA families unless the U.S. Government undertakes substantial and meaningful reforms of the MIA accounting process.

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