New bill aims to find and identify Wisconsin soldiers missing in action

Published: Sep. 5, 2019 at 5:15 PM CDT
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Tens of thousands of American service members are reported as missing in action.

The University of Wisconsin System was the first academic group to partner with the Department of Defense (DOD) to help find and identify those service members back around 2013.

The UW’s team has successfully located three MIA service members so far, but the DOD has yet to assign them a recovery mission for a Wisconsin service member.

A new state bill aims to help bring Wisconsin’s lost soldiers home.

“Since WWII, there have been 82,000 service members missing in action,” said state Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton).

Sen. Roth says more than 1,500 of those missing service men and women are from Wisconsin.

“Whose families, brothers and sisters, parents maybe, nieces, nephews, and other siblings still do not know where the remains of their loved one lie,” said Roth.

Though the DOD already partners with the UW System and other academic groups to recover and identify the remains of MIAs, it’s not an easy or quick process. A single recovery mission costs between $1 million and $1.5 million and can take up to two years.

“The excavation, the archaeology, the finding of the remains, then you have to find and match that with the family members,” said Roth. “That all takes time, that all takes a lot of effort.”

Roth announced a new bill at Oshkosh’s Military Museum Thursday that aims to help. If passed, it would grant the UW System $180,000 to find up to three Wisconsin MIA’s each year.

“That’s what it’s about, finding these 1,500 people around the world bringing them home, and bringing their families closure,” said Roth.

UW MIA Recovery and Identification Project Leader Charles Konsitzke agrees.

“It means a lot to me, I come from a very large military family. I was thankful I’ve never had a lost loved one, however I’ve met with many families who have,” said Konsitzke. “You can still see… how this still impacts them 75 plus years [later].”

Closure is key for the families and veterans alike.

Philip Moore, a Vietnam veteran, says it took more than 20 years before his friend’s body was found.

“People want closure,” said Moore “How did they die? What did they go through? They want that closure, they want that body being brought back.”

Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge John des Jardins says his uncle who served in WWII was missing for about 60 years.

“It never really goes away,” said des Jardins. “People that think 'Well, you’re over it now, you can move on.' You’re never over it. That’s a lifetime thing.”

Roth and others hope with the new bill, more families can find the closure they need.

“This is great, really good. I’m glad to see it happening,” said Moore.

“We are a country that sends our men and women out to protect us,” said Roth. “We have to do everything in our power to make sure we can identify and then bring them home, that’s what this bill is about.”

Roth believes the bill will pass into law. If it does, it will go into effect for two years. After that, the results would be assessed and a vote on whether the grant should be continued.