GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Research, investigate, recover, and account for missing service members from past wars and conflicts and bring them home to their loved ones is the mission of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
"There would be that hole in their family for decades with no hope of it being filled. So, by us doing what we do there's always going to be that hope that that hole will be filled in their family and that their loved one will be able to come home," said SFC Sean Everette, public affairs spokesperson for DPAA.
This mission has been around since the 1970's, but DPAA as an organization was formed in 2015.
Everette says there are over 81,600 service members still missing and most of them are from WWII.
"Some of those that are missing, there are about 41,000 of those 81,000 that are lost at sea... And the majority of them that are lost at sea are what are known as unrecoverable. Their ships could be in waters that are 100ft deep and we don't have the technology right now to be able to go that deep and safety recover remains inside a ship wreck," said Everette.
It depends on conflict and the service member, but everything starts with researchers, historians, and analysis.
They will go through unit histories, personnel files, look at names of those missing and look at who is possibly recoverable.
From there teams will go investigate and if there is any evidence that there would be something to be found.
Then they will send a recovery team to do an archeological dig to find aircraft remains, material evidence, or human remains.
That's just one way they are able to locate missing service members...
"There are also a lot of unknowns from WWII and Korean War that are buried as unknowns at varies American cemeteries... So, we've got disinterment where the remains are exhumed and sent to our lab for analysis," said Everette.
This process can often take years.
He says this organization is important to help keep promises the United States makes to service members when they enlist in the military.
"When a service member raises their hand and swears that oath to their country the country also makes them a promise and that is that they will never be forgotten and that we will never leave a fallen comrade. Our purpose as an agency within the department of defense is to make sure that promise is fulfilled," said Everette.
Everette says this is most important promise the United States makes to those who enlist.
Even with COVID-19 DPAA was still able to bring home 120 service members in 2020.
In 2019, they were able to identify about 227 service members which is the most they have identified in a single year since they started.
"If there is a family out there that has a service member missing form a past conflict and they don't know what to do, contact the service that that person belonged to. That service will be able to the appropriate service casualty office and potentially put you on the road to finding your family member and bringing them home," said Everette.
For more information on this organization, click here.