U.S. families of the missing in action fight time and bureaucracy

Mon Nov 10, 2014 8:30pm EST
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By Jeffrey B. Roth

CHAMBERSBURG Pa. (Reuters) - In April 1943, when Ronald Norford was 10, his older brother Robert enlisted in the U.S. Navy and shipped out on a submarine patrolling the waters off Japan as World War Two was reaching full boil.

"My mother made me a white dress Navy uniform, like the real Navy uniform my brother wore, so she could take a picture of us both before he shipped out," Norford recalled. "He was a real caring brother."

Those memories still haunt Norford, now 81, in part because he never found out exactly what happened to his brother's submarine and the 82 men on board.

In October 1944, the Navy said the submarine, the S-294 Escolar, was lost at sea after striking a mine in the Yellow Sea. Norford says he wants more information about what happened to the sub. Either way, the vessel and the remains of its crew were never found.

Norford is not alone. Families of many of the 83,000 U.S. military personnel still listed as missing action, some 90 percent of whom fought in World War Two, are also looking for closure.

Many MIA families complain of difficulties in working with two Department of Defense bureaucracies set up to find and identify remains.

An October report by the Department of Defense inspector general concluded that a lack of long-term leadership and management problems have contributed to low morale of employees of the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, or JPAC, and the U.S. Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office, or DPMO, two agencies charged with tracking down the remains of soldiers listed as missing in action.

Despite a $100 million annual budget, the agencies only identified about 60 remains in 2013, well below the goal set by Congress to identify at least 200 MIAs per year beginning in 2015.   Continued...

A military veteran checks the sizing of a suit jacket in San Francisco, California November 10, 2014. Homeless and low-income veterans received a complete suit and tips on how to look for job and housing interviews, a day before Veteran's Day. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith