Bringing the fallen back home

  • Published
  • By Van N. Williams
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center Public Affairs
Images from the Korean War are in black and white and those from the Vietnam War are in color. But for many, those images are old and faded.

With the current conflict in Afghanistan, it can be easy to forget those who have fought in previous wars and have not returned home.

But there are people in organizations and government agencies whose job is to never forget and to continue to search for those missing in action.

One of those agencies is the Past Conflicts Branch of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center.

Working hand in hand with members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, the Past Conflicts Branch collects DNA samples from the families of missing service members.

"We have collected more than 800 samples in 2010," said Allen Cronin, mortuary specialist and senior branch member.

Mr. Cronin and members of his team reach out to families for DNA samples through conferences and other venues.

"We use genealogists and research to find family members of the missing so that we can ask them for DNA samples to help identify their missing relatives," Mr. Cronin said.

Once a JPAC team recovers remains from overseas, they are compared with a DNA database to determine the identity of the fallen service member.

But the work of the specialists in the Past Conflicts Branch doesn't begin and end with DNA.

Once the remains are identified, the team members work with the family to arrange repatriation and final arrangements for the loved one.

"We had nine missing-in-action service members returned home in 2010," Mr. Cronin said. "This year we will meet or exceed that number."

Recently, the remains of 1st Lt. Robert Franklin Dees, an Air Force pilot missing since the Korean War, were returned to his family in Ozark, Ala.

"I want to thank the Air Force Mortuary Affairs and Mr. Allen Cronin," said Linda Dees, niece of Lieutenant. Dees. "He has been with us every step of the way. We couldn't have done it without him."

Mr. Cronin says that his team considers it an honor and privilege to serve the families of missing service members.

"It's the best feeling in the world, when we are able to bring them home to their loved ones."