US Defense Department Tries to Account for Missing Americans


Since World War II over 88,000 Americans have been missing in action or their bodies have not been recovered. In the past decade a special US Defense Department organization has been working hard on finding out where Americans have vanished and what has happened to them. In 1993 a special office, the Defense Prisoner of War/ Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) was founded. About 600 people work there.

The United States spends over $100 million every year trying to find and get back the bodily remains of soldiers, civilians and other personnel that have disappeared in the past. The Defense Department claims that these men and women lost their lives fighting for America and deserve proper funeral. Between 2000 and 2007 over 500 Americans, missing since World War II, have been identified.


The DPMO has two primary tasks. First the agency wants to bring back living American prisoners of war. Today, decades after the Korean and Vietnam Wars, there are reports about American soldiers who still might be alive in these countries. However, looking into these cases has not provided any positive results. The United States has found no proof that there are still American prisoners alive anywhere in the world.


Americans in Vietnam

Americans in Vietnam


The second aim of the Missing Personnel Office is to find and bring back the bodies of Americans who have disappeared in the last decades. They contact foreign countries and ask them for information or sometimes officials travel to other countries and investigate crash scenes and other places where Americans may have gone missing. In many cases local people bring in dog tags or other objects that can be linked to a person who has gone missing.

The DPMO often carries out a joint field investigation with foreign agencies in which they go to a possible site in search of bones and other remains. In a special laboratory, based in Hawaii, scientists try to determine the age and sex of the dead person. Sometimes teeth are found so that dental records can be matched. In many cases DNA is compared with blood samples of relatives. The officers also interview possible eyewitnesses or try to obtain other material that may be of importance.

When the DPMO is certain of the identity of a missing person it contacts the relatives and informs them. Some families have been waiting for many years for such a call. The remains are either brought to Arlington National Cemetery for a military funeral or the family may choose to bury the missing person privately. In any case, the American government pays for the funeral costs.

If the remains cannot be identified they remain in the Hawaii lab until they can hopefully be matched with a missing American.


Related Topics



  • account for = to explain why something has happened
  • agency = organization
  • aim = task, job
  • based = with its headquarters in …
  • bodily remains = the body of a dead person , or what is left of it
  • bury = to put a dead person into a grave
  • carry out = do
  • case = situation
  • cemetery = large field where people are buried
  • civilian = not a member of the army
  • claim = say, argue
  • decade = ten years
  • dental records = information about your teeth
  • deserve = ought to have
  • determine = find out
  • disappear = here: to go missing
  • DNA = material that carries genetic information about the cells in your body
  • dog tag = a small piece of metal that solders wear on a chain around their necks, with their name, blood types etc … written on them
  • eyewitness = a person who was at a place when something happened
  • field investigation = here: practical work that is not done in a lab but at the place where something happened
  • foreign = another country
  • found-founded = start
  • funeral = a religious ceremony in which you bury a dead person
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • however = but
  • identify = to find out who someone is
  • identity = the name of a person
  • importance = meaning
  • investigate = look into, examine
  • joint = together with someone else
  • local = here: people who live there
  • match =compare
  • missing in action = a soldier or other member of the army who has disappeared in a war or conflict
  • obtain = get
  • official = a representative or member of the government
  • personnel = the people who work in the army
  • primary = main, important
  • prisoner of war = soldier or member of an army who is caught by the enemy during a war
  • proof = facts, information about something
  • proper = good, correct
  • provide = give
  • recover = to get back
  • sample = a small part of something
  • scientist = a person who works in a lab and is trained in science
  • site = where something happened
  • soldier = a person who fights for their country in a war
  • task = job
  • vanish = disappear