How Science Helped Identify Fallen Soldiers Nearly 80 Years After Their Deaths

We want everyone to come home from serving in the military, but the sad reality is that many people don’t make it back from war. World War II was devastating for many families when loved ones failed to return home.

Some received the heart wrenching news that a loved one didn’t survive. But others were left with more questions than answers when their loved ones were never found or heard from again. Those service members are generally considered missing, which can be heard for loved ones to find closure with.

Photo: John Hill/Pexels

Amazingly, some missing service members from World War II are still being identified today! According to a press release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, two fallen U.S. service members from Illinois were identified over the summer of 2022.

Using the latest advancements in identification technology, scientists with the DPAA were able to positively identify U.S. Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. James M. Howie of Chester, Ill., and Tech. Sgt. Harold Kretzer of Odin, Ill. Both service members were killed in the summer of 1943 during Operation TIDAL WAVE, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries at Ploiesti, north of Bucharest, Romania.

Photo: Pexels/Marta Branco

The DPAA works to identify fallen U.S. service members of past wars and bring them home for burial. Both Kretzer and Howie have been properly honored and buried on U.S. soil following their identifications.

According to the The Southern Illinoisan, Forensic Anthropologist and Project Lead Dr. Megan Ingvoldstad said, “In the U.S., we believe that when you sacrifice your whole life for the good of our country, you deserve to be identified and not remain unknown; we believe families have the right to know that their loved-ones are accounted-for and where they can be visited; and finally, we believe our current-day military deserves to see that we leave no one behind.”

Photo: Flickr/Arlington National Cemetery

“The work to identify remains of U.S. service members who have died in past conflicts has existed in varying forms since WWII and the Korean War. More recently, DPAA embarked upon the specific challenge of identifying the unaccounted-for servicemembers from Operation Tidal Wave,” Ingvoldstad added.

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