Status Was EverythingJun 19, 2023
We all know that today, no matter where you live in the world, if you have status (including military rank), money, education, and social connections, you will get farther in life. You will receive information, gifts, connections, and more because of these things. Is it fair? No, but this is how our world runs.
I've seen this same concept applied during World War II, particularly in regards to how much information a family received about their war dead. Families that did not have these things received the basic form letters of information. Families that had some or all of these things and pushed for answers, usually received them in great detail.
For examples of this, see my article at the WWII Research & Writing Center, Money, Education and Connections Provided Answers in WWII.
For more than a decade that I've been researching and writing WWI and WWII histories for clients and my own family and the hundreds of IDPFs (Individual Deceased Personnel Files) I've read, this is shown time and again. However......I recently read a file of a high ranking officer that rocked me to my core.
I can't share too many details yet but this officer served in the Pacific Theater and was captured in 1942. He became a Japanese Prisoner of War until his death in 1945 while allegedly being on one of the Japanese prisoner ships which was bombed by the Americans. Those details are unclear according to his file.
The Identification of this POW
According to this 280 page file on a Lt Colonel, he was allegedly on a Japanese Prisoner of War ship being transported when it was bombed by the Americans. According to history, we were not aware our men were being transported on these ships before we bombed them. This Lt Colonel did not appear on a ship list when completed by Graves Registration later, but he was added according to a document in his IDPF. Was he really on one of those ships or had he already died somewhere else? This may never be known.
There was an Unknown and an X-File created for this Unknown with details given about possible weight, height, age, dental information upon examination of the remains, and hair and beard color. Reading the file, this did not match well with the information on the Lt Colonel so a match was initially not made. Remember, DNA testing was not an option during or after WWII.
Enter his wife...... who began asking questions of her high ranking friends and connections and pushing for an identification so she could bring her husband's remains home after the war. (Stay tuned for another article about her.) Due to the wife's connections, a new examination of that set of remains was done and many questions were asked of her about her husband's dental work and medical history. All of this is documented in the file.
After an extensive examination of all the information, a unanimous decision was made that this set of remains was in fact this Lt Colonel. Yet.......the evidence doesn't make sense. After the identification was made, arrangements were quickly made to repatriate his remains and have them buried in the U.S. His wife and daughter, both deceased, are buried with him.
His wife received some closure, although it's questionable if the identification was accurate.
Another Family Still Grieves
If the identification was not accurate and this widow was given remains of "her husband" to appease her and help her in her grief, that means another family will never receive closure because that set of remains is not available to DNA test today. Another family will forever have their service member listed as MIA and unrecoverable.
What happens next? I'm making notes about this case and asking a trusted colleague to do the same. Then we'll see what's possible after this if we both agree the wrong identification may have been made. If the identification is found to be incorrect then another family may receive the opportunity to gain closure. However, this also means the Lt Colonel may go on the MIA list. He has no living descendants as his daughter never married and never had a child.
It's important to question everything you discover through military and genealogy research. Mistakes were made, people were human and in some cases, under pressure to produce a specific result. Examine all information through the historical lens and seek out more records as you build your case for each family member.
What Will You Discover Through Research?
Are you curious about what you might find out about your WWI or WWII service members? What you might discover about your family through the genealogy and military records? If so, let's start a project today.
Book a private session or free research consult, many options available based on your needs, and let me help you explore what's hidden in your family tree, start a military research project, create your family tree or write your story.
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