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Effort underway to identify ‘unknown’ World War II troops who were buried in the Philippines

HONOLULU — The remains of some U.S. military personnel who died during World War II and were buried anonymously in the Philippines have been returned to Hawaii to try to determine their identities.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recently conducted an “honorable carry” ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for about 40 sets of unidentified remains, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

The repatriation from the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial was one of the agency’s large disinterment projects, and the remains will be examined at a lab at Hickam for possible identification by forensic anthropologists and others.

The agency, which has an annual budget of $169 million and hundreds of personnel in Hawaii, investigates, recovers and identifies missing Americans from past wars.

The agency said it made 120 identifications in the fiscal year ending in September, with 82 from WWII, 36 from the Korean War and two from the Vietnam War. The agency recorded 218 identifications in 2019, its highest yearly total.

Members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conduct an honorable carry for the remains of unidentified U.S. service members at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 21, 2020. The remains were recently disinterred from the Philippines and will be examined by forensic anthropologists and odontologists at DPAA’s skeletal identification laboratory in hopes of making an identification. (Staff Sgt. Jonathan McElderry/Air Force)
Members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) conduct an honorable carry for the remains of unidentified U.S. service members at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 21, 2020. The remains were recently disinterred from the Philippines and will be examined by forensic anthropologists and odontologists at DPAA’s skeletal identification laboratory in hopes of making an identification. (Staff Sgt. Jonathan McElderry/Air Force)

During WWII, thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members were sent to prisoner of war camps.

In March 2018, a team of eight Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency personnel spent 13 days at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial disinterring 20 graves of unidentified prisoners of war killed in the Cabanatuan POW Camp.

Between November 2019 and January 2020, 55 exhumations were conducted at the Manila cemetery, where some headstones read, “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.”

In 2016, the Army granted permission to exhume six graves at Manila American Cemetery, resulting three years later in the identification of Army Sgt. Cread Shuey of Norton, Kansas, who died in September 1942.

Shuey and others were reburied several times amid attempts to identify the service members, but commingling of remains and limited identification technology hampered the efforts. Shuey was identified in 2019 using dental, anthropological and mitochondrial DNA analysis.

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