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Missing Chicago WWII Vet May Finally Be Identified

Military at long last agrees to exhume remains in a Philippine grave to determine if they are Arthur "Bud" Kelder's after a ProPublica report.

The remains of Bud Kelder are believed to be buried under this cross in a Manila cemetery. Photos provided by his cousin, John Eakin, show the remains of a veteran in the Philippines and a letter from Bud to his parents.
The remains of Bud Kelder are believed to be buried under this cross in a Manila cemetery. Photos provided by his cousin, John Eakin, show the remains of a veteran in the Philippines and a letter from Bud to his parents.

By Megan McCloskey
ProPublica.org

After years of refusing to act, the U.S. military has reversed course and has decided to disinter the possible grave of a Chicago man, Arthur "Bud" Kelder, a POW from World War II who is buried anonymously in an American war cemetery in the Philippines.

Earlier this year, ProPublica and NPR reported about the struggle by Bud's family to get him finally ID'd — and the resistance they have faced from the Pentagon.

As we detailed, the military's effort to recover MIAs such as Bud has suffered from outdated scientific methods, overlapping bureaucracy and poor management. In 2013, the military, which receives about $100 million annually to do the job, identified just 60 service members out of the about 83,000 Americans missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

» Read: ProPublica's first report on the effort to find Arthur "Bud" Kelder's remains

Bud's family has long been fighting the Pentagon, even going so far as suing, to get the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command to dig up the grave of the unknown soldier who may be Bud.

Bud, an Army private, died in 1942 in the Cabanatuan POW camp in the Philippines and was buried in a common grave numbered 717 – all of which is known because the POWs there kept a meticulous roster of the dead. After the war, the U.S. military dug up the POW graves and attempted to identify the remains. Those who couldn't be identified were buried as "unknowns" in a cemetery in Manila. Bud's family never knew what happened to his body.

Bud's cousin John Eakin began searching for his remains a few years ago. Using historical and medical documents, Eakin discovered clues suggesting the grave of one of the unknowns, labeled "X-816," was Bud. Eakin repeatedly petitioned J-PAC to disinter the grave and do DNA testing on the bones to see if they matched Bud's.

But despite some anthropologists at J-PAC believing it was a viable case, the agency's scientific director, Tom Holland, steadfastly refused. Under Holland's leadership, J-PAC has long operated with a risk-averse disinterment policy for the 9,400 unknowns buried around the world, rarely pursing those cases. J-PAC contended that Bud's case didn't meet those highly restrictive standards.

Now the military has decided to disinter not only X-816, but also the remains of 10 other men who were never identified from common Grave 717, according to Navy Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost, a Defense Department spokeswoman. Derrick-Frost did not say what led the Pentagon to change its stance.

Eakin said the family was overjoyed that the government was finally acting after the family first brought evidence to the Pentagon's attention more than four years ago. But he also expressed frustration that they are only acting now.

"Exhumation of the remains of these unknowns is not being done because it is the right thing to do. Rather, these remains are being returned in response to our family's lawsuit against the U.S. Government," Eakin said. He added: "This will be a hollow victory for MIA families unless the U.S. Government undertakes substantial and meaningful reforms of the MIA accounting process."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a broad overhaul of the MIA mission in March, combining the multiple, fractious agencies involved in the mission into a new, single entity. The restructuring has not yet happened. A Pentagon inspector general report about the mission's struggles is expected next month.

There's no timeline yet for the exhumation, but if X-816 does turn out to be Bud, the family plans to bury him the family crypt in the Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago where Bud grew up.

Related Articles: Why did the U.S. military decline to exhume these remains for so long, given all the evidence gathered by his relative? Read the original story, learn how you can help an MIA and see how the Pentagon's latest revamp of its mission to find missing soldiers looks a lot like previous efforts.


Megan McCloskey covers the military for ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.


Rose Mary Stone July 04, 2014 at 12:33 PM
A lengthy list of scandals regarding the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) has now been publically exposed by NBC, CBS, NPR, Stars and Stripes, the Associated Press, and a host of other media investigative reports. Scathing official reports by multiple federal agencies painted efforts by JPAC as dysfunctional, duplicative, inefficient, wasteful and so poorly managed and led that JPAC simply could not do the job assigned to it. No matter how hard the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory (CIL) and JPAC management tried to spin the fact that only 385 identifications in seven years with an annual budget far exceeding $100 million was someone else’s fault, the American public and Congress refused to buy this hogwash. The JPAC CIL finally admitted that it takes them an average of ELEVEN YEARS to make an identification after remains are recovered. Investigations by the Department of Defense found 600 to 1,000 sets of American servicemen's remains in cardboard boxes in the JPAC Laboratory that the CIL is incapable of identifying because their methods are antiquated and obsolete. The American public and families of MIAs who accepted the smoke and mirrors from the JPAC public relations machine for years through fraud, phony “arrival home” ceremonies, and out right lies; feel angry, humiliated, and betrayed beyond belief. A large number of current and former employees of JPAC cooperated with these investigations because they are dismayed, disillusioned, disheartened, disgusted, and still disbelieving of what they experienced at JPAC. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, in congressional testimony, spoke for many of them when he called JPAC “disgraceful”. Despite being accused of being “vindictive” and “disgruntled”, many past and present employees braved severe retaliation by the JPAC management to come forward with the truth. There are many truly dedicated men and women who work at JPAC who believe in the mission. Researchers, military recovery specialists, and field investigators who hack through jungles, climb mountains, and wade rivers only to be sabotaged in their work by a completely dysfunctional command deserve great credit for their efforts to expose JPAC’s corrupt operation. In the final analysis, no one with any common sense whatsoever believed the excuses of the JPAC Laboratory Scientific Director and other members of the leadership clique at JPAC when their disgraceful actions became public. The Secretary of Defense finally ordered JPAC dissolved and the entire operation be “overhauled”. The changes are long overdue. Yet, even now, those who remain in command at JPAC continue to make excuses and are trying to keep their high paying jobs through their usual finger pointing, denials of responsibility, and boasts that they can “overhaul” their own severe dysfunction if Congress will just give them more millions. Bovine excrement. It is now incumbent upon the Secretary of Defense to ensure that his pledge to the American public for a "paradigm shift" away from "outdated, institutionalized thinking" at JPAC becomes a reality. Such needed massive reform cannot be accomplished by changing the name of the organization, re-shuffling the same poor managers to new desks and titles, and allowing those at fault for not keeping up with modern science such as DNA, to keep their jobs. To do so would only allow the same infectious disease of arrogance and lies to the families of American heroes to take root all over again. Everyone at any level of management and culpability in the many JPAC scandals must be removed. And removed now! The disaster at JPAC has been added to the VA Hospital, Dover Mortuary, Arlington Cemetery, and the Viet Nam Unknown debacles. We cannot allow it to happen again.

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