The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that a U.S. serviceman, missing from World War II, has been identified and is being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Air Forces Pvt. Harold S. Hirschi, 29, of Oklahoma City, will be buried June 28, in Andersonville, Georgia. On Dec. 8, 1941, Hirschi was assigned to Headquarters Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group, when Japanese forces invaded the Philippine Islands. Intense fighting continued until May 6, 1942, when American forces on Corregidor Island surrendered.
Thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members from Bataan and Corregidor were taken prisoner; including many who were forced to endure the Bataan Death March, en route to Japanese prisoner of war (POW) camps. Hirschi was among those reported captured after the surrender of Corregidor and who were eventually moved to the Cabanatuan POW camp. More than 2,500 POWs perished in this camp during the remaining years of the war.
Hirschi was admitted to the Cabanatuan Camp station hospital for illness, where he died on Nov. 19, 1942. According to prison records, Hirschi was buried along with 13 fellow prisoners in a local camp cemetery in Cabanatuan, Grave 717.
Following the war, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) personnel exhumed those buried at the Cabanatuan cemetery and relocated the remains to a temporary U.S. military cemetery near Manila. In late 1947, the AGRS again exhumed the remains at the Manila cemetery in an attempt to identify them. Due to the circumstances of the POW deaths and burials, the extensive commingling, and the limited identification technologies of the time, all of the remains could not be individually identified. The unidentified remains were reburied as unknowns in a permanent American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) cemetery at Fort McKinley in Manila, Philippines (known as Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.)
In 2014, the Secretary of the Army granted permission to exhume ten graves associated with the Cabanatuan Common Grave 717. On August 28, 2014, the remains were sent to the DPAA laboratory for identification.
To identify Hirschi’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA analysis, which matched two cousins, as well as circumstantial evidence and laboratory analysis, to include anthropological analysis, which matched his records.
DPAA is appreciative to the American Battle Monuments Commission for their partnership in this mission.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 73,052 service members still unaccounted for from World War II, and approximately 26,000 are assessed as possible recoverable. Hirschi’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery site along with the other MIAs from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil, find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa or call (703) 699-1420.