JPAC Mission Update
Last week I made contact with the family of Henry Milton Dreyer, one of the Wake 98. Milton was twenty-five years old when he was killed on Wake Island in 1943. Two years earlier he had come to work on Wake with the medical team, assisting the civilian doctors as a surgical nurse. He had been on Oahu for at least a year before, working at the naval hospital at Ewa. Milton was the youngest of six siblings with four older brothers and one older sister. It must have been a sad day when this Iowa family learned of Milton’s tragic death during the war, and the next generation still holds his memory close. The son of Milton’s sister is providing a mitochondrial DNA line for the JPAC mission. The Dreyer family reference sample is number forty-nine for me, marking the half-way point in my search for the families of the 98.
The Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command mission to identify remains found on Wake Island in 2011 continues in its third year. To my knowledge JPAC has not made any positive identification to date. I have been aiding the mission in locating family members of the Wake 98 to provide DNA samples for identification purposes. My system includes using information from the contractors’ employment records to search in Ancestry.com, making email contacts where I can, and using an online telephone directory database to search for possible name matches. I frequently encounter dead ends, but I have met a lot of interesting people and many grateful family members along the way. Almost all are glad to participate on behalf of their long lost relative. Please contact me if you have any information on any of the Wake 98 or any questions about the mission.
JPAC is the agency charged with the recovery and identification of remains of missing service members – numbering about 83,000 – from the nation’s wars. In 2010 Congress mandated the JPAC increase its identification rate to 200 per year by 2015 (the current average is 77 per year). To facilitate the expansion, a new $82 million JPAC headquarters and lab is under construction at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and will provide two and a half times the current physical lab space. Additional personnel have been brought on, though budget cuts have limited the number needed. When the remains were found and collected from Wake Island in 2011, JPAC did not have the personnel to conduct the search for family members, so I volunteered. I continue to pursue this mission despite the disconcerting swirl of bad news surrounding JPAC in recent months.
Reports of JPAC’s mismanagement and dysfunction first surfaced last summer, and have been followed up in recent months. In 2013 a Government Accountability Office investigation determined that the Pentagon’s ability to accomplish the accounting operation was “undermined by longstanding leadership weaknesses and a fragmented organizational structure.” The report pointed to interagency disputes and overlapping responsibilities among the agencies tasked with the overall mission: JPAC, the Department of Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office, Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab, and Air Force Life Sciences Equipment Lab. Investigative journalists have pointed to other problems with JPAC practices and protocol. A story that ran last month in Stars and Stripes “Hagel orders shake-up of MIA accounting agencies” tells that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave the Pentagon thirty days to come up with a plan to restructure the agencies. A consolidation of JPAC and the Department of Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office is under consideration, with a possible move of the JPAC command to the mainland. March 22, 2014, is the deadline for the plan.
I trust that whatever the organizational outcome is, the Wake Family DNA samples will be safeguarded and used to account for and identify the remains found on Wake Island. Milton Dreyer and his fellows in the Wake 98 deserve our best efforts. Here are a few more of their photographs.