Cranfield University and DPAA teams training in Hawaii. Almost 40,000 WWII casualties are thought to be recoverable. Image: Cranfield University

The victims of World War II are remembered in regular commemorations, but many of the fatalities have never been recovered.

Now academics at Bedford’s Cranfield Forensic Institute (CFI) are collaborating with the US Department of Defense in a new initiative to recover and identify those who remain missing.

The initiative faces a formidable task, as there are estimated to be around 72,000 American personnel still unaccounted for from WWII alone. Around 39,000 casualties are deemed to be recoverable.

The team of archaeologists and anthropologists from CFI are working with the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA), a wing of the US Department of Defense.

The DPAA’s stated mission is to locate, identify, and repatriate the remains of American personnel in past conflicts. This includes WWII, but also the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Iraq Wars.

The Cranfield team consists of graduates from the university’s forensic MSc programme. They are experienced in archaeological methods, having already conducted excavations across Europe and in the South Pacific.

Late last autumn, the DPAA provided training for the graduates at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, in Hawaii.

One of the attendees was Dr David Errickson, Lecturer in Forensic Archaeology and Anthropology at CFI.

‘We are honoured to be collaborating with the DPAA and to be part of the effort to recover conflict casualties and provide those who gave their lives with a dignified burial,’ he said.

‘The orientation provided has been delivered by some of the world’s most experienced practitioners in this field,’ Errickson added.

‘Worldwide, and particularly in Europe, there are a very limited number of organisations working to recover conflict casualties, so this partnership is an extremely valuable opportunity – not least for our graduates, who will also be involved in searching for the missing.’

This article was published in the February 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.