Matériel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

8

Missing in action: searching for America's war dead

LISA HOSHOWER-LEPPO

The US Army is designated as the Executive Agent for the Joint Mortuary Affairs Program and maintains a Central Joint Mortuary Affairs Office and the US Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI). The CILHI is the field-operating component of the Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center, US Army Total Personnel Command.

The history behind the creation of the CILHI is a long one. For more than 150 years the US government has made a concerted effort to recover and inter the remains of American service members killed in war. The earliest endeavours date to the Seminole Wars of the 1840s; although many Civil War soldiers were buried where they fell, with little attempt at identification, the government had by then assumed an obligation to identify and bury war dead in registered graves. The Spanish-American War signalled a major policy change as servicemen interred on foreign soil were systematically disinterred from their burial sites in Cuba and returned to the United States for burial. The creation of the Graves Registration Service during the First World War reflected the US Government's desire to quickly return the remains of soldiers from Europe for interment on native soil.

During the Second World War Congress delegated the responsibility of returning the remains of US service members to the Secretary of the Army. Several temporary army identification laboratories were established and, for the first time, physical anthropologists and anatomists were retained to identify the remains. Congress had established a five-year time limit after the war's end for final resolution. When the congressional charter expired in 1951 the laboratories were disbanded.

During the Korean War a temporary identification laboratory was established - again by congressional charter - in Kohura, Japan to process United Nations Forces war dead. The laboratory closed in 1956, but some of the laboratory personnel remained in Japan and later assisted in the identification of service members killed in the Vietnam War.

During the 1960s two US mortuaries operated in South Vietnam to process and identify the remains of US service members killed during the Vietnam War. The closing of the mortuaries in 1972 and 1973 coincided with the withdrawal of US troops from South Vietnam. In March 1973 the US Army established the Central Identification Laboratory, Thailand (CIL-THAI) at Camp Samae San, Thailand, to continue the search for and recovery and the identification of the remains of US

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