Heroes return home: Repatriation of WWII remains

By Senior Airman Tenley Long | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | Sept. 21, 2018

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —

“I can’t even imagine being killed in action and then being left there,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brant Dixon, 437th Operations Support Squadron director of current operations. “I would want to come home – any way possible.”

Many service members lost their lives fighting for America. Some were brought home to their families and laid to rest, others were buried on the foreign soil where they died and several went missing in action. However, these heroes are never forgotten.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s (DPAA) mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing personnel to their families and the nation. On Sept. 13, 2018, DPAA and supporting units moved one step closer to accomplishing this mission by bringing home 26 fallen WWII heroes from around Europe.

“Our director likes to say, ‘the mission we do here is a sacred one with a moral imperative,’” explained U.S. Army Capt. David Macaspac, DPAA recovery team leader. “It’s the right thing for us to do considering the sacrifice they made for us.”

This mission couldn’t be accomplished alone. Joint Base Charleston being a key Air Mobility Command base was tasked to provide the airpower and rapid mobility needed to return these WWII soldiers back to American soil.

“We want to support those who sacrificed their lives to the fullest,” Dixon said.  “This is an extremely important mission for everyone involved. It’s very fulfilling and very moving to be able to bring these folks home. It means the world to me.  ”

The remains returning to U.S. soil is just the start of the identification process. The remains were taken to the DPAA laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, to conduct DNA testing so the remains can be positively identified. Once their identities are determined, they are returned to their families and loved ones.

The identification process could take months or years to reach a final determination for each set of remains.

“It will be a long time until the family gets notified that this is in fact their loved one,” said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Jose Nunez, DPAA's senior enlisted advisor for the Europe detachment. “The end goal is to bring closure to the family. It’s an amazing experience.”

Bringing home those missing in action can be hard work, however, finding and recovering the remains affords these fallen heroes the chance to have the respectful burial and repatriation they earned.

 “It would be humbling and gratifying to know that 70 years later my country didn’t forget, and that they still made the effort to find me and bring me home,” Macaspac said. “That’s just very humbling.”

As the American flag-draped transfer cases were carried out of the C-17 one by one, everyone in attendance lined the ramp to render a final salute to each hero returning home. This showed the utmost care the Armed Forces gives to each service member who sacrificed their life.