Saturday, May 22, 1999

Army lab will
try to ID soldiers
killed in Korea

The Central Identification
Laboratory will piece together
clues to identify 70 soldiers
buried at Punchbowl

By Gregg K. Kakesako


The Army's Central Identification Laboratory will play the pivotal role in determining the identity of 70 soldiers killed during the Korean War, but buried as unknown in Punchbowl graves.

The task is considered to be a massive undertaking, but Johnie Webb, the facility's deputy director, is optimistic: "We've done a lot of work to develop a comprehensive database, and I believe we will be successful."

The Central Identification Laboratory, located at Hickam Air Force Base, has been the key agency in the hunt to identify Vietnam War remains.

Forensic experts at the Army facility will use mitochondrial DNA technology to try to identify the remains, now buried in Punchbowl grave sites under simple head stones with the common epitaph "Unknown."

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Forensic scientists from the Army's Central Identification
Laboratory will try to identify the Korean War soldier in
this and 69 other graves at Punchbowl cemetery.

Webb said the Army will be working with remains uncovered by the North Koreans and returned to the United States under "Operation Glory" in 1954.

The task now before Army forensic experts is to determine which cases could best be matched with the buried remains.

Webb said the Army has an idea where the remains of the 70 were recovered and will try to compare those records with reports of unaccounted soldiers.

"It's a very labor-intensive process," Webb said, "and one which we will take very slowly."

Webb said the Army still has the dental records of some of the missing soldiers.

Gene Castagnetti, Punchbowl cemetery director, said he expects that no more than six remains will be disinterred each year.

"It is the cemetery's role to ensure that certain procedures are carried out so that a very careful, documented audit track is kept," Castagnetti said.

Before any remains are disinterred, careful anthropological and historical searches will be made to ensure that the remains physically match the records of soldiers known to be lost in the recovery area, he said.

Webb said another vital task facing Army forensic experts is to get a blood sample from the maternal side of the soldier's family, which will be used in the DNA testing process.

The same mitochondrial DNA testing method was used last year to identify Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie, the former Vietnam War unknown from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Webb acknowledged that the advent of the successful DNA testing technique added impetus to track down the identities of those still unaccounted for from the Korean War.

Pat Dunton of the Korean War/Cold War Association of the Missing said her organization and others have lobbied the Pentagon for years to use DNA testing more aggressively on Korean War remains.

"It's an excellent thing," she told the Associated Press yesterday. "It needs to be done."

More than 8,100 people are still listed as missing from the Korean War since the cease fire was put in place in 1953.

Of that number, 864 remains of unidentified soldiers are buried at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Punchbowl Crater.

The announcement by the Pentagon to use DNA technology to identify the missing from the Korean War comes as the military, veteran's groups and others prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of the break-out of hostilities on the Korean peninsula.

The national observance will begin with ceremonies in Washington, D.C., on June 25, 2000.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin