ProPublica and NPR find massive government failures in identifying missing soldiers

March 7, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 7, 2014

On Thursday, the web-based journalism organization ProPublica and National Public Radio began publishing a joint investigation into Pentagon efforts to identify and repatriate the remains of missing American soldiers.

The first story focused on Arthur “Bud” Kelder. After the U.S. Army private died at a prison camp in the Philippines in November 1942, the Japanese threw his body into a mass grave along with those of 13 other men. To date, only 10 of the corpses from grave No. 717 have been officially identified — one by his identification tags, three by their dental records.

A few years ago, Kelder’s family found proof that their late relative had gold dental inlays. Records for the unnamed men from grave 717 show that only one of the bodies had gold inlays. Yet military officials have refused to disinter the relevant remains for DNA tests, even though this appears to be a logical and obvious next step in attempting to identify the body.

This is hardly an isolated instance. The Pentagon’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command has spent $373 million over the past five years. In that time, JPAC identified the remains of only 372 soldiers. Think of it — that’s a cost of more than $100 million per identification.

There are an estimated 45,000 Americans listed as missing in action in World War II and the Korea and Vietnam conflicts whose remains are considered recoverable. If the Pentagon continues at its current pace, using what ProPublica and NPR call outdated identification methods, it would take more than 600 years to identify and return all the missing corpses.

That’s pretty astonishing. One hopes that the embarrassing scrutiny provided by the investigative reporting here can spur some useful reforms.

Or perhaps the government will consider privatizing this effort. Surely the genius of the free market could clean up this mess in a jiffy.

Whoops. That link wasn’t the right one to support that point. Let’s try that again:

Going with unfettered capitalism is clearly the way to get things on track.

No, no… That’s not right, either. OK, one more time:

The effort to identify and return the remains of missing soldiers would surely be more efficient if only government would get out of the way.

Oh, dear. Still off-message.

Bureaucratic red tape and bungling is never the right way to go; letting businesses operate in a laissez-faire environment is all you need to solve any problem.

Nope. Um, how about…

When government steps aside, we learn that the private sector can cure all ills.

Wait, wait, wait. Here, I’ve got things straight:

Left to its own devices, the free market system has an amazing ability to operate with maximum efficiency.

Huh. Well, maybe we ought to get some kind of public-private partnership to tackle this issue.

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