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The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that a U.S. serviceman, unaccounted-for from World War II, has been identified and is being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Air Forces Pvt. William D. Gruber, 22, of Townsend, Montana, will be buried August 5 in Boulder, Montana. On Dec. 8, 1941, Gruber was assigned to the Philippine Department, U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, when Japanese forces invaded the Philippine Islands. Gruber and his unit cared for those wounded in intense fighting until May 6, 1942, when Corregidor fell, and the Philippines fell under control of Japanese forces. Thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members were taken prisoner; including many who were forced to endure the Bataan Death March, en route to Japanese prisoner of war (POW) camps, including the POW camp at Cabanatuan on the island of Luzon, Philippines. Gruber was among those reported captured 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.
On June 26, 1942, Gruber was admitted to the Cabanatuan Prison Camp Hospital suffering from diphtheria and malaria. He died Sept. 27, 1942. According to prison records, Gruber was buried along with fellow prisoners in a local camp cemetery in Cabanatuan.
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 cemetery at Fort McKinley in Manila, Philippines.
On May 11, 2016, the remains from two graves associated with Gruber’s loss were accessioned into the laboratory.
To identify Gruber’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA analysis via Next Generation Sequencing technology (NGS), which matched his maternal family members, as well as circumstantial evidence and laboratory analysis, to include dental comparisons.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 73,046 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Gruber’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at an American Battle Monuments Commission site along with the others who are missing 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.