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Remembered Today:

US Army Central Identification Laboratory

Hedley Malloch

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There are three good pieces in the current edition of Archaeology on the work of the US Army's Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI). This is the unit of the US army whose remit is the bodies of nearly 90,000 US servicemen unaccounted for from WW2 onwards. CILH employs 250 military and civilian personnel and has the largest staff of forensic anthropologists of any institution in the world. In addition the Lab employs interpreters, photographers and radio operators grouped into 18 search and rescue teams.of 10 to 14 people each

Their work takes them the four corners of the globe. To identify bodies they use of wide variety of techniques including facial reconstruction based on comparing bones and photographs, and DNA samples from potential descendants, as well as medical and dental records. Using these techniques they have managed to identify more than 1050 sets of remains collected since 1973. They are presently to trying to identify the remains of the crew of the USS Monitor sunk in 1862.

At one level it is all rather depressing reading as it makes our efforts look what they are: unprofessional and under-resoured. This is not a criticism of individuals, rather of how the whole business is conceived, run and funded and where successful recovery and identification of WW1 dead can depend upon talented, dedicated amateurs (and I mean that in the very best sense of the phrase) like the Diggers and John Sheen - and a very large slice of luck. One of the outcomes is that we find more than 20 bodies near Arras last year and we can only put names to two of them. It is a cause for concern

The CILHI web-site is at http//:www.army.mil. It has an up-to-date report on their current work.

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This US Army Unit is renowned for its work in identifing mortal remains.

A recent discovery was the identication of the Vietnam Unknown Hero at Arlington National Cemetery which has led to some discord between the US Government and the next of kin.Perhaps one of our US contributors could enlighten us with an update on this case.

Its work is forensic science and appears to be another example where the UK is behind in this type of application.It is closely allied to criminal investigation and is in use by the Home Office but of course identifing unknown war dead would not generate a profit.Until there is a change of policy there will continue to be war dead buried as unknowns.

The US Government policy of identifing war dead can be interpretated as being the final act in their commitment to the dead.


Frank East

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Thank you for the web address Hedley.

I have heard of this unit before and,many years ago,saw a documentary on their work.

Having one Great-Grandfather who has no known gave,the subject of battlefield archeology on the western front is of a particular interest to me.

I know that it must be hard to identify soldiers fom WW1,with the absence of "dog tags" not helping much and the general use of Artillery during the war meaning that many men were,literally,blown to pieces.

It does seem strange to me that more effort is not put into finding the relations of the men who are found,complete,on the battlefields of the western front.

I was interested to see that they use facial reconstruction,something that has been used to reconstruct faces that are a thousand years old.

I am sure that a lot of us who are researching missing men from world war one,would recognise Great-Grandad or Great-Uncle or Grandad.

Until i started looking more into the great war,i wasn't aware of the amount of remains that are still being recovered in France and Flanders.

It is not something that is widely covered in the British papers,as you can imagine,unless it is something unusual,the recent Arras excavation being an example of this.

I find myself agreeing with you,Hedley,on your comment regarding the American goverment support.


Simon Furnell

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Guest J.Woodward

Hedley, would the excavation at Arras you speak of be that carried out in 2001 at the Pont du Jour under the supervision of Alain Jacques of the Arras Archaeological Service? I ask because I am doing some research into the remains recovered at le Pont du Jour and was unaware that any of the men have been positively identified,


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I have to disagree with you on this one Simon when you say, Quote:

" I am sure that a lot of us who are researching missing men from world war one,would recognise Great-Grandad or Great-Uncle or grandad "

Most of us.... in fact I would guess, All of us never saw these men in life and only have a faded photo to go by.... If you have ever seen those crime reconstructions of victims you will know they are done using average measurements and as a result only give a likeness... I am very weary of this kind of thing. Where would it end, as someone else has mentioned the US Unknown Soldier is no longer unknown... I think this is very sad. The whole idea was so that all families of the missing could imagine that he was their son... now they can't.

So imagine you find a body on the western front and take a dna sample... what do you compare it with ! I think if a body is found with no identity he should be buried as unknown and the money spent preserving the memorials we have to those unknowns, not reconstructing faces or taking dna samples etc ... Call me old fashioned if you like !!


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Some quick replies: Yes, I was refering to the remains discovered by Alain Jacques at Point du Jour. On reflection J.Woodward could well be right when he says that none of the bodies were positively identified (but I seem to remember that two were; one was a Scot and his relatives traced; I think I saw this on tv); it may be that regiments rather than names were positively identified.

DNA: I would have thought that with the advances in DNA fingerprinting then more could be done. In the Point du Jour case, if my memory serves me correct, the authorities had a good idea of the likely names of the individuals found, but could not tie specific names to a set of remains. An appeal in the papers for interested descendants, a screening interview, a small sample of body tissue and a search for a match amongst the recovered remains. Would that have been difficult to fund and organise? How many matches would have been made, 6? 8? Better than none, surely? This begs another question: were any samples from the bodies at Point du Jour kept back to enable this exercise to be done at a later date, funds and expertise permitting? Or were all the remains buried?

Perhaps this is another argument for a national DNA fingerprint record?

It will be very interesting to see what happens if a large number of US bodies are found in France and Flanders. It will be a good chance to compare the US and UK reponses and success rates.

In terms of style, design and quality of memorials, cemeteries and registers the British effort is second to none; in the 20s and 30s the British Government hired the best talent available, gave them a decent budget and the result still shows today. But in other respects - organisation, technical expertise, resources - the British remembrance effort leaves a lot to be desired, when compared with, say, the US or the French. This is not a criticism of individuals present or past; it's more a reflection of the way in which the whole business has been funded and run. Compared to the US, we have always had a penny-pinching attitude.

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