Leave No Man Behind—65 Years Later

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Part of the spirit and the culture of the U.S. military is the creed that you don’t leave anyone behind—whether injured, captured, or dead.

For example, the U.S. Army Ranger Creed, the oath Army Rangers take, includes these words: “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy …”

Several books and numerous articles have been devoted to this honorable subject.

The risks that fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen expose themselves to and the heroism displayed in such rescue and recovery missions, oftentimes under extremely dangerous conditions, are legendary, well-publicized and recognized—and rightly so.

Equally admirable are the recent and continuing efforts by the Department of Defense to find and bring home the remains of our fallen heroes from the Vietnam War, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and from other recent conflicts.

Just last month, 18 years after his F/A-18 Hornet was downed over Iraq during the early hours of the first Gulf War, members of the Department of Defense discovered and brought home the remains of Navy Captain Scott Speicher.

There are many other stories about equally admirable efforts that eventually provide much-needed closure to grieving American families.

Most of us are familiar with such work done by the Department of Defense.

But I wonder how many of us are familiar with the scope, magnitude and the near mission impossible nature of such valiant work.

An article this morning in the New York Times brought that home to me.

There are more than 84,000 Americans still missing from our previous wars.

But even more surprising, and daunting, a vast majority of those unaccounted for—some 74,000—are from World War II, still missing in Europe and the Pacific.

This “herculean and at times quixotic task” is being performed by a 400-person unit, called the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, based at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

According to the Times, the new focus on World War II comes “after years of attention to soldiers who were unaccounted for in the 1960s and 1970s in the jungles of Southeast Asia.”

There is pressure from the families of those World War II heroes.

But there is also a sense of urgency, because time is running out.

According to the Times, “many elderly witnesses and local historians, crucial in helping to locate crash sites, are dying or already gone.”

And there are also financial pressures and hurdles. For example, only a fraction ($55 million) of the Pentagon’s annual budget is devoted toward the search mission.

Time is running out in another sense, too:

Although the teams identify more than 70 of the missing each year, at that rate it will take 500 years to find all of the 35,000 whom the Pentagon classifies as potentially “recoverable.” Many thousands of the others were lost at sea.

And so it is that almost 65 years after an American B-26 Marauder bomber was attacked by German fighter planes and went down in flames in a cow pasture in Bauler, Germany, “a 10-member Defense Department team was in the same pasture, searching through mounds of excavated mud for a trace of the airman.”

That airman is the pilot of the ill-fated bomber that was on its way to bomb a viaduct in the German town of Ahrweiler. Of the six-member crew, two parachuted out, were captured by the Germans, and released after the war. Of the four who died in the crash, the bodies of three have been recovered.

The name of the pilot for whose remains the team is searching has not been revealed by the Pentagon because his relatives are not aware of the search and the Pentagon does not want to get their hopes up.

But members of the team searching for the pilot have already “developed a kinship with the pilot they never knew.” “It’s the same family essentially going back for our own,” said Capt. Melissa Ova, the team leader, who served in Iraq in 2007, according to the Times.

For more details on both this particular search effort and on the mission of this very special, elite unit, please click here.

Thought you would like to know…

  

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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