Interview: How You Can Help Find an MIA
Former Cabanatuan POWs celebrate after successful raid on prison camp in the Philippines; 30 January 1945. US Army Photo, Wikimedia Commons
There are 45,000 service members missing in action from World War II and other wars who experts say are recoverable. But the Pentagon’s $100 million per year effort to identify them has solved surprisingly few cases – 60 MIAs were sent home last year.
The military actually knows where many of the missing are: 9,400 service members are buried as "unknowns" in American cemeteries around the world. Armed with family stories and documents, John Eakin may have tracked down the remains of one of those men, Bud Kelder, a cousin who died in a World War II POW camp.
What if someone doesn’t know much about their relative’s death?
That was the case with me in the beginning. In 2009, I didn’t set out to recover the remains of my cousin. I was simply looking for genealogical information on the date and place of his death. About all that I knew about him was that he had been in the Bataan Death March and his remains were never returned to his family for burial. Growing up, it was one of those things that I was told never to ask about because it upset my grandparents.
A good starting point is the MIA database on the website of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO).
What’s next for more information? Can a family member get any files about their missing loved one?
The first thing any family member should do is request the Individual Deceased Personnel File for their family member. The IDPF is the key document in any MIA research. These files were classified and restricted from public access for many years, but are available now.
An IDPF contains all that is known about a serviceman’s death and efforts to identify his remains. It typically includes death certificates, notifications of death, disposition of personnel property, information on burial, and often ends with the paperwork involved in providing a veterans headstone. The IDPF will often direct further investigation. It took over three months for the Army to retrieve Bud’s IDPF from the archives, but it was worth the wait as it was the key to the whole case.
Bud's IDPF also contained several letters from Bud's parents to the Army asking that his remains be returned for burial. Their grief at not being able to bury their son was almost palpable.
Family members can obtain the IDPF from the appropriate Service Casualty Office. (It is important to know that the Air Force didn’t come in to being until 1947 and missing personnel from the old Army Air Corps are handled by the Army Casualty Office.)
US Army (and the Air Corps)
Department of the Army
Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center
1600 Spearhead Div Ave, Dept 450
Fort Knox, KY 40122-5405
Tel: 1 (800) 892-2490
US Marine Corps
Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps
Manpower and Reserve Affairs (MRC)
Personal and Family Readiness Division
3280 Russell Road
Quantico, VA 22134-5103
Tel: 1 (800) 847-1597
Navy Personnel Command
Casualty Assistance Division (OPNAV N135C)
5720 Integrity Drive
Millington, TN 38055-6210
Tel:1 (800) 443-9298
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