It seems there is some rather high-level contention going on within DoD these days. (Yeah, I know – you’re thinking, “Tell us something we didn’t know.” Keep reading.)
Arguments between the Services and/or between a Service and a Joint Agency or Command are nothing new. But this one is a bit unique.
It seems as if the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) wants to exhume a rather large number of those buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (AKA the “Punchbowl”) as “Unknowns” – 330+ total – from the USS Oklahoma. They believe they may now be able to identify a fair number of these individuals. Further, some of the graves are thought or known to contain commingled remains – so exhuming only selected graves isn’t really feasible.
JPAC would also like to do the same for those buried as “Unknowns” from the USS California and the USS West Virginia at a future date.
Part of the reason JPAC wants to do this is because Congress has set mandates for annual numbers of identifications by JPAC, and this is likely the only way they can reach those mandates. Yet another part of the reason is, well, their mission. JPAC exists to recover and identify previously unaccounted for US casualties – and those buried as “Unknowns” are by definition still unaccounted for.
To me, this seems like the proverbial “no brainer”. New data and forensic techniques are available that may identify some of these lost. IMO, we should use them to do so.
However, JPAC is receiving opposition from what is to me a rather surprising source within DoD: the Navy. According to an excellent article from Stars and Stripes,
But the Hawaii-based military command, known as JPAC, is getting resistance from the Navy, which prefers to maintain the “sanctity” of the graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, officials said.
Further, the Navy would like to take the partial and commingled remains of more than 100 Oklahoma crew members who were disinterred in 2003 from a single casket at Punchbowl, possibly rebury them at a memorial and grave site to be created on Ford Island, and invite family members to an interment ceremony on Dec. 7, 2014.
To an extent, I can understand the former objection. But I cannot agree. IMO, the chance to identify some of the fallen should outweigh that consideration. Further, I’d be willing to give long odds that – could we but poll the fallen – they’d universally agree to the brief disturbance of their rest so that some of their fallen brothers-in-arms could be identified and receive a by-name, proper burial.
And the second objection? Frankly, that strikes me as little more than showboating and PR. In other words: pure bull.
But I might well be off base here. This is an issue on which I have a hard time being objective; I firmly believe that the fallen deserve a proper, by-name burial if at all possible. IMO, burial as an “Unknown” or a centotaph for an unrecovered body just isn’t the same.