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Government research connects families to missing service members

Posted at 10:06 PM, May 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-18 23:11:57-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — As we honor our military during Armed Forces Day, government agencies met with local families at the Omaha Marriott Regency. Groups lead by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency help families get information about lost service members.

Inside, groups divided into different conflicts that included the Vietnam, Korea and the Cold Wars. There was another room tracing history back to World War II. At one table, Judy Elliott and her mother Elanor learned five years ago of a family member missing in action. His name was Sgt. Morris William Skinner Jr. Judy says she was researching her family tree when she stumbled across the unidentified family member.

So in comes Dr. Timothy McMahon, director of DNA operations for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. The AFMES is one component that works with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. All are bodies of the government that work together to account for service members.

Judy and Elanor have the name of that lost family member, so now they are turning to Dr. McMahon for closure.

"If I can bring clarity or help a family member understand, then I've done my job," Dr. McMahon said.

Dr. McMahon says there are more than 500 marines who haven't been recovered or identified from the battle of Tarawa, which took place in 1943 during World War II. That's where some of Judy's relative's remains were discovered.

Over seventy years later, Judy is looking to bring Sgt. Skinner Jr. home.

"He needs to be brought home and be given a proper military burial," she said.

Because of deterioration, remains like Sgt. Skinner's from World War II are carefully examined at a testing facility at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Because of their work, families are able to discover new information based on new findings at places like Tarawa. Judy and Elanor hope that Sgt. Skinner Jr.'s remains can be brought back to the U.S. Dr. McMahon helps connect families with new information.

"It's about us moving forward with getting remains that are potentially in the area from Tarawa and testing them," Dr. McMahon said.

Across the table, Judy encourages anyone to reach out to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

"If you have loved ones missing, contact these agencies. They are terrific people."