This past year, a group of four Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) historians (Dr. Ian Spurgeon, Ms. Christine Cohn, Dr. Ed Burton and Dr. Jeff Johnson) traveled to the Netherlands to attend events commemorating the 70th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. This campaign, in September 1944, sought to bypass the German defensive positions, known as the Siegfried Line, by capturing a key transportation route through southern Netherlands and into Germany.
More than 400 American service members are unaccounted for from combat in the Netherlands overall, and over 60 U.S. paratroopers remain unaccounted for from this campaign alone.
While there, the team conducted oral history interviews and research, and gathered information for more than 40 cases of unaccounted for service members from World War II. This is an important addition to the accounting community’s collection of circumstantial and incident-specific information.
One of the highlights was talking with U.S., British, and German veterans attending the commemoration events. Some of the notable American veterans that agency personnel spoke with included Clinton Riddle, formerly assigned to the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division; Moffatt Burriss, formerly assigned to the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division; and Eugene Gilbreath, formerly assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Two of the formal interviews with veterans were conducted at the site of battles, and one even included eyewitness testimony regarding the loss of an unaccounted for service member.
The team also shared and gathered information with family members of nine World War II service members over the course of the week. The historians' and analysts’ mission is to provide families with information about their missing loved ones, but also to listen to what the families can tell us about the loss of their family members. This type of information exchange is always welcome, especially since some of the families of the missing have been conducting their own research for years, and have crucial information to share with the accounting community.
The team was able to talk to third party researchers, historians, and museum officials, located near where the battles occurred. They frequently have access to local archival documents or eye witnesses, and have accumulated knowledge about losses in an area.
The team also had the opportunity to strengthen the agency’s official relationships with other government entities and organizations by meeting with officials of two American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries, where together more than 16,000 American military dead rest today. The Dutch pay homage to those who gave their lives to free them during World War II, and have adopted all of the graves of Americans lost during World War II at the Netherlands American Cemetery located at Margarten. The team also met with several officials from the Royal Netherlands Army Recovery and Identification Unit (RIU), the organization charged with recovering remains in the Netherlands.
As DPAA moves forward, strengthening old contacts and developing new relationships with third parties is essential, and the accounting community looks forward to working together with them in the future.