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Hartselle Enquirer

Double heartbreak

Last weekend Lynn and I attended another Family Update meeting for families whose loved ones were never recovered during war times. There is a government agency that is tasked with finding and recovering the remains of missing soldiers. The agency is known as Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency or DPAA. The group has responsibility for recovery efforts and works with private companies and universities to aid in the process.

Lynn’s Uncle Hal Roberts is in the group of soldiers who lost their lives on foreign soil and his remains have not been found or recovered.

Corporal Roberts was flying as a radio operator moving supplies to the Chinese during WWII, across the Himalayan Mountains commonly referred to as “flying the hump.” When Japan invaded Burma in 1942 China was basically surrounded. The allies needed a way to get supplies the Chinese soldiers needed, and flying them over the mountains was basically the only option.

Roberts and the rest of the crew were on a mission carrying supplies over the “hump” when the plane disappeared shortly after takeoff. His plane was one of three to crash on July 14, 1945, and one of 23 in a two-week period. Due to the high crash rate, search and rescue capabilities were not adequate to keep up with the task of finding the crash sites.

The family updates held regularly seek to inform families of the status of searches and each family member who attends has a one-on-one meeting with a member of DPAA. We were informed that there are searches and recovery efforts going on in Burma now and there are plans to move to Northern Burma where it is thought the plane crashed.

Ten years ago, a gentlemen doing a private search of his own, claims to have seen a plane crash site with the tail number of Roberts’ plane visible. Issues with the government, of what is now known as Miramar, had prevented the agency from being able to search the area. However, now relations have improved and searches are taking place in the country.

While attending the update we learned that over 73,000 soldiers were never found, nor were their remains recovered in WWII.. Much of this was due to the time period, bodies needing to be buried as soon as possible, and many wound up in mass gravesites, not to be disrespectful to the dead, but doing what was necessary in times of war. Others were cremated, as was the custom in the Pacific area.

There were hundreds of families who attended the meeting all with one hope. Each one there wants to be able to return whatever remains that could be recovered of their family members, to their homes.

I cannot imagine what Hal’s family and others went through upon learning of their loved ones death from the war. The loss would be incredible, but to not have closure by having the remains to bury, was surely double heartbreak. Perhaps one day the remains of all missing U. S Soldiers will be recovered, and family members will have the closure they have longed for.

Randy Garrison is the president and publisher of the Hartselle Enquirer.

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