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'We’re keeping a promise to those service men and women,' Offutt Lab identifies WWII POWs and MIA troops

Posted at 7:01 PM, Sep 19, 2023

BELLEVUE, Neb. (KMTV) — Veterans and military organizations gathered at Memorial Park in Omaha on September 15 for National POW-MIA Recognition Day. A day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned home.

Across all our wars there are about 81,000 individuals unaccounted for.

The DPAA (Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency) was established as a government agency in 2015 dedicated to finding and identifying those missing service members. A lot of that work is happening at Offutt Air Force Base.

“We are the Nebraska Laboratory — one of two laboratories for this mission and agency,” Nebraska Lab Director Franklin Damann said. “We are the only laboratory here in the continental United States — the other is out in Hawaii.”

In its ten years of existence, the Offutt Lab has helped identify hundreds of service members. All remains that arrive at the lab, no matter the size, are treated with honor.

“As the remains come off the aircraft they will be draped in a flag, escorted by military service members, off the plane, eventually into the building,” DPAA Principal Deputy Director Fern Sumpter Winbush said.

The DPAA has partner organizations and personnel across the globe searching and recovering evidence for the lab to study and connect to missing Americans.

“They are bringing evidence back here that either consists of either osteoporosis material, meaning bone or teeth, or material evidence and life support. These are the items that our soldiers or Air Force personnel would’ve been wearing or had with them,” Damann said.

The lab consists of analysts who focus on the aircraft and personal materials and analysts who focus on the biological remains found. The agency’s goal is to identify 200 individuals a year, which they accomplished this past year.

“I think the important thing I want to emphasize is that it’s not the number. Those are 200 families that will receive the answer,” Sumpter Winbush said.

An answer that typically catches families off guard.

“Almost 100 percent of them say, ‘I hung up on them. I had no idea who that was and thought it was a scam. There’s no way there was a government agency still looking for my great-uncle, great-grandfather,’” Sumpter Winbush said.

A mission of utmost importance to those who served and those who continue to serve today.

“We’re keeping a promise to those service men and women, and civilians, DOD personnel, who paid the ultimate sacrifice. They never came home,” Damann said. “So, we need to put action to the words of never leave a fallen comrade behind.”

The Nebraska Laboratory primarily focuses on identifying service members who went missing in Europe and served in World War II.

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