LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Friday marks the 43rd Annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day. In Novi at Oakland Hills Memorial Gardens, the POW Committee of Michigan will host a ceremony at the “Michigan Remembers” POW/MIA Memorial to honor the brave service members from Michigan who remain
unaccounted for.

Ceremonies like these are held all over the country at schools, churches, military installations, fire departments and at many other locations to make sure America remembers their responsibility to honor and continue to look for those who served our nation and did not return.

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According to the U.S. Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), there are 81,536 service members who are unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, WWII, the Korean War, the Cold War and other conflicts. 3,555 of those heroes are from Michigan.

There’s Donald James Barton from Kalkaska, Robert Howard Angevine from Jackson, Lucien Joseph Bourque from Chippewa and many many more.

The following is an account of Michigan MIA/POWs according to the DPAA: Navy Reserve (4), U.S. Air Force (43), U.S. Army (1,476), U.S. Army Air Forces (712), U.S. Coast Guard (47), U.S. Marine Corps (137), and U.S. Navy (1,135). They were listed as having served in WWII, the Vietnam War, Korea or the Cold War. There was also one civilian listed named Lynn Monroe who died during World War II.

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In July, the DPAA identified the remains of Private First Class Donald Hofman, missing from World War II. He was from Grand Rapids. Their statement about the identification says, “Private First Class Hofman entered the U.S. Army from Michigan and was a member of Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.”

They continue, “On January 21, 1945, he was reported missing in action following the Battle of Reipertswiller, France. The exact circumstances surrounding his loss were not known, and he was eventually given a presumptive finding of death. During their review of files for unidentified remains recovered from eastern France, DPAA historians noted one set of remains that appeared to relate to a soldier who died in the hills near Reipertswiller. Based on further research, DPAA historians determined the remains were likely connected to someone killed in action near Reipertswiller in January of 1945. The remains were disinterred and transferred to the DPAA Laboratory, where they were identified as those of PFC Hofman.”

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The DPAA is a governmental agency with a heart and a very important mission that they are dedicated to – to find and identify the remains of American service members. With an office in Oahu, Hawaii, they have the largest forensic anthropological skeletal lab in the world to help them with their mission.

According to Task & Purpose, a media company that provides information for the military community, there are hundreds of civilian and military personnel who work there including archaeologists, anthropologists, forensic odontologists and other scientists who work on finding and identifying missing service members from past wars.

Maj. Leah Ganoni, spokesperson for the agency, says that their mission is a humanitarian mission and a “chance to make good on that warrior ethos they beat into us at basic training – never leave a fallen comrade. Whatever I do every day is some kind of way to pay that back…I will do whatever it takes, in some small way every day, to make sure they’re not forgotten.”

Task & Purpose reports that on the walls of the DPAA Hawaii office are photos of service members they’ve been able to identify. There is also a flag which looks over the remains. The “team” that is involved in a recovery mission can include up to 400 people and many different areas of expertise are needed. There can be underwater divers needed or people who are proficient in rappelling as well as medics and explosive ordnance disposal technicians. Remains can be found anywhere and missions can be both dangerous and time consuming.

Finding a service member can involve “hundreds of thousands of hours of research” according to Ganoni with historians and analysts going over operational orders, maps, military records and anything else they can find to try to pinpoint where a service member might be located. They use state-of-the art technology in their labs as well as brushes and shovels on site of their missions.

Ultimately, their goal is go out of business. But that may be a difficult task considering there are about 5,300 service members still in North Korea and also many service members who have been lost at sea. Ganoni says there are many remains that may be unrecoverable because “there are some that the leads are so cold, and time is against us, informants and witnesses have either died or are still alive but their memory loss is very real and significant.”

But they press on – because they have to. They will leave no fallen comrade behind.

The people of the DPAA are dedicated to their mission to find the missing and help bring closure to the families of the missing. Ganoni says of his team, “I have to force them to go home because there is a sense of urgency, there is this sense of ‘We need to get this done as quickly as possible’…We do what we do every day for the families so that they can have answers.”

Both the remains of the service members and the families are always respected by the DPAA.

When remains are flown back to the states, an American flag is draped over the case and when the
plane touches down in Hawaii, it will receive an honorable carry.