NORFOLK, VA, NORFOLK, VA –
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) hosted the first Family Member Update (FMU) of the fiscal year 2023, providing families with answers in Norfolk, Virginia, Nov. 19.
Since 1995, DPAA has been conducting periodic updates for families of American service members who are missing in action (MIA). These events are designed to keep family members informed of the U.S. government's worldwide mission to account for those still missing and to discuss in detail the latest information available about their specific cases. Government officials meet with MIA family members who live within a 350-mile radius of major metropolitan areas across the country. About 150-200 family members and 30 government officials attend each meeting.
“What's indicative of our work is what we see here today, we have about 200 family members in attendance in an area that has experienced increased growth and family interest in these FMUs, so we are at a high point today,” said Fern Sumpter-Winbush, DPAA Principal Deputy Director. “They expect us to do more, they want us to do more. Being the only DOD agency responsible for this mission, we must take this seriously. We can't wait because nobody else is going to do it, it’s our responsibility.”
Identifications are made every year through multiple avenues of research, such as the advancement of forensic sciences and improved ability to compile and compare more detailed and complete historical records. This makes it possible for DPAA to reassess unidentified remains buried as unknowns, and, where merited by research, to propose the remains be disinterred in order to conduct new forensic analyses, which may lead to their identification.
Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is a way for families to contribute to the search for their missing loved ones. A member may submit DNA for use in comparison for identification if that member shares a maternal or paternal relationship with the unaccounted-for person. As DNA technologies advance, the contribution of Family Reference Samples (FRS) can lead to information on multiple unaccounted for members that was previously unknown whether due to lack of witnesses and documentation or remains were too sparse or fragmented for the techniques at the time.
Two family members in attendance experienced just that. Sisters, Janice Carr and Jeanie Corso began their journey eight months ago when a DPAA service casualty officer contacted Carr with information about her paternal uncle, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Fredrick William Jacobs, a 20-year-old Purple Heart recipient whose plane went down while dropping supplies to British ground troops during WWII.
“The flood of information was absolutely amazing,” said Carr. “I never even knew how he had died, our father and grandmother never talked about him. One of the things that was sent to me was his 76-page personnel file. There was really no history that the family was aware of, so when this all happened, I was absolutely floored.”
This was the first time Jacobs’ family had heard of DPAA, making this FMU the first of many they will attend. Because the DPAA team reached out to his family, they were able to get an FRS from his brother.
“The most incredible part of this is our father gave DNA [this year] and I told him ‘Dad, you've done something so great, you just keep giving. The last thing you have done is give DNA and now they might have found your brother in Germany. It’s okay to let go now, we are all going to be okay,’ and two days later he passed,” said Corso. “I’m so impressed with this organization, and we are just starting this journey. This is our heritage; we never knew the man but now we are getting to know so much about him and the legacy he left.”
FMUs not only provide families with updated information on their missing members and the process of the Agency, but it also allows for the team to put faces to the missions they are working on. U.S. Air Force Capt. Thomas Thompson, DPAA Research Analyst, explains how it can be hard to connect to a case without any personal connection to that member. He says after meeting a family member who is passionate about the case, it changes your perspective in that they are not just a case file.
“It provides me with more of an appreciation for the mission because I can personally connect with the families and hopefully show them, at the very least, that their family member is not forgotten,” said Thompson. “Being a part of [DPAA] embodies one of the Air Force Core Values of Service Before Self. Even though I’m serving decades after them, at the end of the day they still are my fellow service members and the hope of bringing one of them home ignites that fire.”
As it stands today, there are more than 72,000 missing from World War II, more than 7,500 from the Korean War, 126 missing from the Cold War and more than 1,500 missing from the Vietnam War. Approximately 39,000 are estimated to be recoverable.
“I am hopeful that not only will DPAA achieve everything that we have promised the families, but that we continue to always do more,” said Sumpter-Winbush. “For those serving today, if you should ever go missing, after hostilities cease – We are coming for you.”