This Friday, 20 September 2019, is National POW/MIA Recognition Day and as such, I strongly implore you and your organization to mention the designation of this day in your coverage. While all MIAs from all conflicts are equally important as are all POWs, of notable consideration is those still missing from World War Two: approximately 30,000 of nearly 80,000 missing are deemed potentially recoverable and this number far exceeds all other conflicts combined. It is, unquestionably, necessary to recognize and remember these individuals and to never forget their sacrifice. To that end, it is also imperative that everything currently possible is done by the US Government to recover and identify these Heroes, and, unfortunately, that is not being achieved with consideration to the WWII missing.
While his life story is similar to so many young men at the time, my paternal uncle, Pvt. Martin Kunik, is among those 30,000 who remain missing even though his remains are absolutely recoverable:
As reflected in the newspaper account, Martin emigrated from present-day Slovakia to the US with his family in 1929 and assimilated into American life. Needing to give back to his newly adopted country, he enlisted in the US Army and became an American citizen during this time, all the while recognizing that war will almost certainly come to the US eventually and the need to fight the Nazi scourge overtaking Europe. He re-enlisted in 1939 and was set to be discharged in early 1942 but was retained due to the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. As he was stationed in The Philippines at the time, he was soon fighting in the Battle of Bataan until being ordered to surrender in May 1942. He and his comrades-in-arms fought the Japanese Imperial Army while undersupplied with provisions, medicines, ammunition, and with the full knowledge that they would not be rescued, relieved, or resupplied. For his actions, Martin was awarded fourteen medals and citations, including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
After surrender, Martin survived the infamous Bataan Death March. He was ultimately placed in the notorious Cabanatuan POW Camp while sick and malnourished, and ultimately succumbed in July 1942 from diphtheria due to the harsh conditions under the Japanese captors. In total, nearly 3,000 men would ultimately perish at this camp, most enduring starvation, torture, execution, and suffering from treatable illnesses but with no medical care.
As the men died, they were buried in mass graves in areas determined by the Japanese, but these were often not properly documented or marked which made exhumation in the post-war years extremely challenging. Though well-intentioned, the exhumation process was also marred by several significant poor decisions and mismanagement leading to more than 1,000 men remaining unidentified and buried in individual plots, mainly in the American Manila Cemetery. Although a subsequent project sponsored by the US Government attempted to correct many of the mistakes made, most of the men remained unidentified at the conclusion of the project in 1951 and remain so to this day.
It wasn’t until litigation in 2015 that a single grave of these men was opened, and since, less than a few dozen have been identified, as stated by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (as posted on their website), the agency tasked with recovery, identification, and return of remains to their families members. To date, only partial remains have been identified and not one complete set of remains.
While omitting the other reasons for so few identifications for clarity and length, one extremely important matter remains: no matter how many exhumations are made, there needs to exist a DNA sample to compare those remains to. Currently, only 6% of these Family Reference Samples (or FRSs) are on file at DPAA for WWII remains. By comparison, 92% are on file for the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts. Additionally, the DNA present in the remains continues to degrade in time given that 75 years have now passed, and the remains were not handled with DNA analysis in mind. In families of MIAs, memories fade and distance grows between DNA sources and the MIA. All taken together, in time it continues to become less likely that these identifications will, or even can be, ever made. While there are several inexcusable agency-made obstacles to the identification process, the need for FRSs will always persist. For information about the man-made obstacles to the identification process, please view www.bataanmissing.com.
There is a tremendous opportunity present on 20 September to bring light to this substantial problem of identifying and returning WWII remains and to make the public aware of the need for submitting FRSs to DPAA all while recognizing the challenges and sacrifices POWs faced and that the MIA continue to endure. In addition, it is also possible to address the extraordinary lack of action—for whatever the reasons—that plagues DPAA so that so many WWII remains haven’t been recovered and identified. That light may spark the needed Congressional action to finally address this problem and facilitate the return of these Hero’s remains to their families after 75 years since their ultimate sacrifice. They all deserve our unending gratitude, recognition, honor and dignity.
I truly hope that you will seriously consider this one story, among the thousands of others, for reporting on this special day. By providing illumination onto this matter, the return of these 30,000 men may finally receive the attention it has always deserved but sadly, has been often neglected.
On behalf of my father and my family, I appreciate the time and consideration of this request and please do not hesitate to contact me for any reason should you wish to discuss this matter or to view any of the documentation we have amassed.
Frank Kunik, Jr., DO