The US ID'd A Record Number Of Missing War Dead This Year — Along With Stories Of Their Bravery And Sacrifice

Unsung Heroes
U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado

The identifications of formerly missing American service members over the past year tell the harrowing stories of bravery and sacrifice that accompanied them across three wars.


For fiscal 2018, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which has a large presence on Oahu, made a record 206 identifications.

The names and accounts of some of those who made the ultimate sacrifice include:

Army 1st Lt. Seymour P. Drovis, who was a member of the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division, fighting Japanese forces in Saipan in July 1944.

Drovis’ division suffered heavy casualties repelling one of the largest Japanese “banzai” attacks of World War II. A soldier reported seeing Drovis fatally shot on July 7, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Army Master Sgt. Leonard K. Chinn, 34, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, was a member of the 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, fighting in North Korea in late 1950.

As his unit fought off persistent Chinese attacks, Chinn, who was married and had two young sons, was captured on Dec. 1, and was held at several temporary prisoner of war camps before being marched to the POW Camp 5 Complex.

Several former American prisoners of war reported that Chinn died on April 5, 1951, at Camp 5.

On Feb. 6, 1967, meanwhile, Air Force Col. Richard A. Kibbey, 32, was copiloting an HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” helicopter on a rescue mission to recover the pilot of an aircraft downed over North Vietnam.

After rescuing the pilot, his helicopter was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire and crashed. Kibbey was reported missing in action. In 2017, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese team excavated the crash site and recovered remains.

The accounting agency, which has a lab on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and more than 400 personnel in Hawaii, is charged with the investigation, recovery and identification of missing American war dead.

In fiscal 2018, which ran from Oct. 1, 2017, to Sunday, the organization said it accounted for 203 formerly missing persons from past conflicts.

Also, the agency said it individually identified the remains of three additional personnel who were previously accounted for as part of group burials, reaching the milestone of 206 total identifications.

“Providing the families of the missing those long-sought answers with which they can at least achieve some solace is a profound manifestation of our nation’s steadfast commitment to them and their loved ones,” accounting agency Director Kelly McKeague said in an email.

Broken down by conflict, 11 were from the Vietnam War, 37 from the Korean War and 158 from World War II — including 92 USS Oklahoma casualties from Dec. 7, 1941, who were buried as “unknowns” at Punchbowl cemetery and disinterred in 2015.

Identification totals followed a roller-coaster history for the recovery effort, which underwent a Pentagon-­ordered reorganization starting in 2014 amid accusations the work — conducted by a handful of agencies around the country — was fragmented, redundant and hampered by interagency disputes.

A consolidation created the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, known as DPAA.

Eighty IDs were made in fiscal 2012, 60 in 2013, 87 in 2014, 80 in 2015, 164 in 2016 and 201 in 2017, according to the agency.

Advances in science, meanwhile, have made identifications possible where they were impossible 65 or more years ago.

Army Sgt. Eugene W. Yost, who was 18 when his unit was overrun by North Korea People’s Army soldiers near Taegu in South Korea, was reported missing in action on Sept. 3, 1950.

In March 1951, remains were found in an area that corresponded to where Yost’s regiment fought.

Unable to be identified, the remains were buried as an unknown at Punchbowl. On June 12, 2017, the grave was disinterred. Scientists used mitochondrial DNA, dental and chest X-ray comparisons and circumstantial evidence to identify Yost.

The remains of Chinn, who died in a North Korean POW camp, came to Hawaii in 1993, when North Korea turned over 33 boxes of remains. More recently, scientists used mitochondrial and autosomal DNA, as well as anthropological analysis, to identify Chinn.

Nearly two months ago, his son, Rodney, received a phone call saying his father had been identified.

“I was just so happy; it’s going to be a closing finally after 67 years now,” Chinn told the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star. “Now my mother and father will be together again.”

Master Sgt. Chinn was to be laid to rest Sept. 19 in Silver Creek, Neb., the newspaper reported.

“DPAA is very proud of our accomplishments this year,” said lab director John Byrd. That includes the identification record, recently receiving 55 sets of remains from North Korea, and providing the turnover of 64 sets of South Korean remains back to that country.

“So it’s been quite a year,” Byrd said.

———

©2018 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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