Never Give Up: Behind the scenes at the military lab working to identify the unknowns

They Never Give Up on finding and identifying others who died in service to our country.
Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 10:18 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - This is the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. And, a special military unit just finished a multi-year project to identify the remains of hundreds who died during the attack on the USS Oklahoma.

KY3′s Paul Adler visited the lab near Omaha, Nebraska recently where scientists conducted that work. And, he found while the Oklahoma project is complete. They Never Give Up on finding and identifying others who died in service to our country.

In the town of Monett, Mo., the name Tom Wolfe is everywhere. It’s on a highway sign. It’s on a building. And, his name is on a plaque in a cemetery. Tom Wolfe is the pilot shot down in Cambodia in 1966. He’s definitely not forgotten.

“He was the All-American kid who went on to become a pilot.,” recalled Jason George of the Monett VFW. “It hit the community of Monett hard.”

If and when Tom is found people like Dr. Sarah Kindschuh will identify him. Sarah is a forensic anthropologist. Her current work involves an unknown from World War II. His bomber went down in Germany. “This would be just a basic cleaning,” explains Kindschuh. “So the material here on the table (see video) is what we would consider being material evidence, meaning, it was something that a service member would have been wearing, or would have had in their pockets would have had on their person at the time that they died.”

The evidence on the table includes a knife, a belt buckle, part of his flight suit and even a Bible burned all around the edges. “I see these items on these tables and I know that they are going to go back to a family and it will mean a lot to them. And so for us, that’s very important,” says Kindschuh.

The lab is inside Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb. The scientists here just finished working on a project to identify 343 service members from the sinking of the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor. The project involved 13,000 bones. It took six years.

“Our agency motto is fulfilling the nation’s promise. And it’s a promise to the service member and maybe even 80 years ago in the case of the USS Oklahoma sailors and marines,” says Nebraska Laboratory Director Franklin Damann.

Military scientists in a sister lab recently identified the remains of Army Sgt. John Phillips. The World War II Cassville, Mo. native was just buried in Arlington in September.

“September 17 is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, for us every day is recognition. And there’s not a day that we don’t have our scientists in the lab working on cases.”

For Sarah Kindschuh, the stitching on the boot is a clue. The coils in the heated flight jacket are a clue. And, in this case, some shiny metal on a shirt. “So his navigator wings are actually still attached to his service shirt, so I have part of the shirt up there. But the rest of it is laid out on this table over here. So that’s probably the most important item here because it specifically identifies that shirt is going to one person,” explained Kindschuh.

She’s been working on this case since July.

“It does say U.S. Army. But, it’s so worn here that it’s just barely written right there,” says Kindschuh as she examines a piece of a boot. She’ll start writing reports soon. A family could be notified of identification a few months from now.

Hours away from Sarah’s lab, Jason George of the Monett VFW regrets one thing. That time is not endless for those waiting for answers. “It’s most important for the families having known Tom’s mother. She wanted so badly for Tom’s body to be identified and brought back home before she passed away. And it’s a shame that that didn’t happen,” mentioned George.

Until he’s found, Jason and others honor Tom Wolfe. Keeping his name front and center. Definitely, not forgotten.

“Hopefully, one day he’ll be able to be interred here,” said George.

We’re staying in touch with the lab. And, when they identify the remains and notify the family of the identity of that World War II navigator. We’ll let you know his identity too.

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