It took more almost 70 years, but earlier this month, Sgt. Aubie Aub Atkins finally made it back home. Atkins, a crew member on a B-25 bomber, was on a mission to bomb the Japanese held port of Buna when his plane was shot down deep in the jungles of Indonesia in December of 1942. His journey home started four years ago when the remains of U.S. members were uncovered in a remote section of Papua, New Guinea.
Identifying and returning the remains of those service members like Atkins who are listed as "Missing In Action" is the job of the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC). Located at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, JPAC is made up of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines dedicated to bringing home the thousands of U.S. service members who never made it back from the battlefield.
We work hard to bring the families much needed closure,says Major Ramon Osorio of JPAC. It is the least we can do for service members who made the ultimate sacrifice, he says.
Bringing the remains of missing U.S. service members back home is no easy task. Close to 90,000 Americans are still listed as Missing in Action, 78,000 of them from World War II. JPAC teams often travel to some of the most remote locations in the world. From rice paddies in Southeast Asia to jungles in Indonesia to 16,000 foot mountaintops in the Himalayas, it is not uncommon for team members to hike through miles of jungle or climb mountains and glaciers to get to recovery sites that range in size from a few meters for individual graves to a few hundred meters for plane crashes.
But getting JPAC teams to a recovery site is only half the battle. Excavating remains and artifacts can take months and identifying them can take much longer than that. Once excavated, remains and artifacts are brought back to the Central Identification Laboratory at JPAC TMs Headquarters in Hawaii. Here a team of 30 forensic scientists use a variety of techniques including analysis of skeletal, dental and DNA evidence submitted by missing service members family, to make a match. So far the hard work and dedication of the JPAC team members and scientists is paying off. To date close the remains of close to 1,400 MIAs have been identified and returned home to their families.
Sgt. Atkins' homecoming came on May 16, when his remains were buried alongside his mother and father in his hometown of Athens, Louisiana. 67 years after he left to fight for his country, Aub Atkins' journey has finally come to an end.
For JPAC, returning soldiers like Atkins home is what their mission is all about. We are working to identify more than 1,000 remains right now, says Major Osorio. We will keep working until all of them have been identified, he says. Until they are home, that is our motto here, that is our mission. We will keep working to find and identify MIAs because these service members and their families deserve it and because it is the right thing to do.