Wake 98 Update

DPAA2 In September 2015 when I last wrote about the JPAC/DPAA mission in Not Forgotten, we were still fielding some recent and resubmitted family DNA reference samples to help identify remains found on Wake Island in 2011. The remains were linked to the October 7, 1943, massacre of American POWs on Wake Island, and I have helped to locate qualified DNA donors from the families of the 98 victims. Working with the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory at Dover AFB, we found a few more donors this winter. To date, 71 families have submitted DNA (in most cases multiple samples); of the remaining 27, 14 have no known qualified donor, 6 have declined to submit, and 7 families could not be located. To date, as far as I know, none of the families have received notification of a positive identification.

Some family members have expressed frustration with the long process and their inability to get answers. While I counseled patience in the first years, I too have begun to wonder if and when something will come of our efforts. I say that with all due respect to DPAA, knowing their commitment to accuracy of identification before notification of families and the difficulties of dealing with co-mingled and environmentally compromised remains.

[Important note: the following information is no longer accurate. The U. S. Navy has taken responsibility for its contractors and all family queries should go to the Navy Casualty Officer. Please see my July 1, 2016, post One Hero’s Face.]

One aspect of the Wake mission that concerns me is that it has apparently not been assigned to a military department. The victims were civilian contractors on Wake and, while they were not technically service members at the time of their death, they were under navy contract. Many had actively participated in the defense of the island during the siege and battle of December 1941. In
1981 their fellow POWs who survived the war were granted USN discharges and veterans’ benefits in recognition of their service in the defense of Wake Island. I have argued that the 1943 massacre victims should qualify as navy personnel and their families deserve to receive information on the DNA project through the proper channels.

In response to my queries, a DPAA official has informed me that “If family members are not getting information they can always go to our web site at DPAA.mil and click on the contact us button, put in their question and it will come to us for a response.” So that’s all we have. Since I am not a family member of one of the victims myself, I cannot – and would not – request specific information on any case. I did go to the www.dpaa.mil website yesterday to see what other information I could find to help the families in their search.

The website states that the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Command, established in January 2015, reached full operational capability a month ago, January 8, 2016: the completion of reorganized accounting organizations (including JPAC) into a single unified defense agency in the Department of Defense. The reorganization promises greater effectiveness and efficiency. The case management system that communicates case information to families has “begun development, but is expected to take several months to become fully functional,” which may explain the deflected inquiries. Elsewhere I found lists of WW2 service personnel not recovered after the war, including a civilian category (which does not include any of the Wake victims, probably because they were all assumed recovered from the co-mingled mass graves and reinterred in Punchbowl cemetery).

At the DPAA website, the “contact us” link leads to a form with several qualifiers and room for a detailed message. Instructions say first to be sure you are in contact with your casualty officer, as “your service casualty officer is the primary person of contact for updated information.” That was news to me. I searched for information about casualty officers by returning to the DPAA home page and clicking on the “Families” link. Under contacts is the full list of service casualty officers: each military department (army, navy, etc.) has an office. The casualty office for civilians is the U. S. Department of State and a full address and telephone number is given. A Wake family member recently told me DPAA directed her inquiry to a more specific State Department address, though we didn’t know it was to obtain a casualty officer contact. For our purposes, the casualty office for the Wake mission appears to be:

East Asia and Pacific Division
Overseas Citizens Services (OCS)
U.S. Department of State
2100 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W. 4th Floor
Washington, DC 20520
Phone: (202) 647-5470

This is where families will (I hope) make contact with their “service casualty officer” to obtain current information, and then follow up if needed with the rest of the DPAA “contact us” form. The remaining qualifiers are: subject (chose DNA sample), war (WW2), service (at this point civilian looks like the only answer), full name of victim and DOD (October 7, 1943), and your comments/questions. One can expect a reply in “up to six weeks.”

Though we anticipated that families would receive direct contact regarding the results of the Wake mission, lack of communication doesn’t necessarily mean no DNA match. I hope this will help the families get a good start on follow-up inquiries. To my other readers: thanks for your patience.