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US POW/MIA Cabanatuan Common Grave Next of Kin Support

Thousands of United States soldiers, sailors, Marines, and civilians were taken prisoners of war (POW) by the Japanese in the Philippine Islands between 7 December 1941 and 8 May 1942. The saga of the battle for the Philippines and the horrible treatment the survivors received in Japanese POW camps is the subject of numerous books and articles, but there are few resources that articulate graves registration operations, especially those focused on recovering and identifying the remains of U.S. servicemen who perished from poor care by their Japanese captors at the Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp. The details concerning the circumstances under which U.S. prisoners held at Cabanatuan lived and died were difficult and complicated, as were the attempts to disinter and identify their remains after the war’s end. As a result of these complications, when the U.S. Government's Cabanatuan Project of identifying the POWs remains ended in 1951, 1,007 service members and civilians remained unidentified from among the 2,764 burials at the Camps.

 

Many of the POWs whose remains that were identified during the early days of the government Cabanatuan project were misidentified with many being sent back to family in the U.S. for reburial. Subsequent investigations led War Department officials to conclude that many of the Cabanatuan common graves had intermixed remains, making separating individuals difficult and sent letters to the Next of Kind advising them that their loved one was “non-recoverable”. The individual unidentified remains from the common graves were interred in Manila American Cemetery as “Unknown.”


75 years later with the advancement in DNA the U.S. Government is reexamining the Cabanatuan unknown cases and are actively looking for their descendants with the hope recoveries and identifications can be made through Family Reference Samples (FRS) DNA. Government policies require a minimum 60% of FRS to be collected from the families of all POWs associated with each common grave before they will disinter the grave to make identifications. This includes POWs who were identified after the war’s end due to the commingling of their remains. The government’s policies and process in identifying the POWs descendants is long, families actively working to get their loved one identified are waiting years and for many of the siblings who are still living, they may not see the day their brother is identified and brought home.

 

The US POW/MIA Family Locating mission is supporting the families who are actively trying to get their loved one identified. We do this by genealogical research of all POWs associated with their case, identifying their current descendants and providing contact information. US POW/MIA Family Locating has in each case identified more than 95% of the 238 POWs descendants we have worked on. We are adding more daily as we assist additional families with their MIA loved one's case. Most Cabanatuan common grave cases takes one to five days to complete.

 

Below are Cabanatuan common grave cases we have worked on:

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Grave 504 for S/SGT Carl F. Abbott Family

S/SGT Carl F. Abbott entered the service from California and served with the 194th Tank Battalion. He died on 3 Oct 1942 and was buried in common grave 504. Grave 504 had seven POWs associated with it. Descendants of all seven POWs were identified and contact made. The Abbott family was notified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in March 2019 that enough FRS DNA was collected from the other POW descendants and a request for disinterment was sent to the Department of Defense for approval. 

Grave 314 for PVT Martin L. Kunik Family

PVT Martin L. Kunik, entered service from Pennsylvania on 4 August 1939. He served with Company H, 31st Infantry Regiment. With the surrender of U.S. forces, PVT Kunik became a prisoner of the Japanese, and he died in Cabanatuan POW Camp on 23 July 1942. Camp records associate his burial with Common Grave 314. After the war, remains of American prisoners from Cabanatuan were recovered by U.S. forces, but complications in the burial records and the recovery processes prevented identification of many individuals, including Pvt Kunik. There were 20 POWs associated with common grave 314 but due to the poor records kept at the time of PVT Kunik’s death, the DPAA combined common grave 314 with three others (214, 226 and 1017) for a total of 101 POWs associated with this case. As of January 2019, the DPAA only had 37 FRS on file for this case. Because of the DPAA policies, US POW/MIA Family Locating had to research all 100 POWs and provided current descendant information to the Kunik family. His family is currently reaching out to the others to provide FRS to the DPAA.

More information on the quest to identify PVT Martin L. Kunik 

(US Today News Article)

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Grave 303 for the family of S/SGT Hershel L. Covey

Current Project:

US POW/MIA Family Locating is working on Grave 303 for the family of S/SGT Hershel L. Covey. S/SGT Covey entered the service from Indiana and served with HQ Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group. He died on 17 July 1942 and buried in common grave 303 with 17 other POWs. Due to commingling of the remains and poor grave records kept at the time of his death, the DPAA combined grave 303 with 311 for a total of 36 POWs associated.

Grave 1105 for the family of PVT Clarence Smith

US POW/MIA Family Locating completed grave 1105 for the family of PVT Clarence Smith. PVT Smith entered the service from New York and served with Anti-Tank CO, 31st Infantry Regiment, he died on 12 July 1942 and buried in common grave 1105 with 38 other POWs. Descendant information was provided to PVT Smith’s family and they are currently reaching out to those contacts to provide FRS.

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Grave 1107 for the Family of TEC5 Ambrose Goscha

Current Project:

Grave 1107 for the Family of TEC5 Ambrose Goscha

US POW/MIA Family Locating is completed grave 1107 for the family of TEC5 Ambrose Goscha. TEC5 Goscha served with HQ Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group, he died on 14 July 1942 and buried in common grave 1107 with 36 other POWs. Descendant information is being provided to TEC5 Goscha’s family and they are currently reaching out to those contacts to provide FRS.

Grave 212 for the Family of SGT Durrell Tidwell

US POW/MIA Family Locating completed grave 212 for the family of SGT Durrell Tidwell. SGT Tidwell enter the service from Rodgers, NM and served with the 200th Coast Artillery Regiment, he died on 30 July 1942 and buried in common grave 212 with 19 other POWs. Descendant information was provided to SGT Tidwell’s family and they are currently reaching out to those contacts to provide FRS.

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