Ceremony honors fallen service members identified through forensics

 

Photos: Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — They might have just appeared to be names on a list, but each name that was read over the public address system represented closure to the families of fallen U.S. service members from past wars and conflicts.

Each name meant that a soldier had returned home.

Dover Air Force Base hosted a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Retreat Ceremony around the flag pole near the air traffic control terminal on Friday afternoon.

Airmen stood lined up in a field and were separated by 20 wind-whipped black-and-white Prisoner of War/Missing in Action flags that were rising up from the ground.

Six staff members from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at DAFB recited the names of 139 fallen service members who have been accounted for this year through the base’s DNA Identification Laboratory.

It is the highest number of service members identified in a single year from past wars and conflicts in more than a decade.

Dr. Tim McMahon, the Armed Forces’ DNA lab’s deputy director for forensic services, has seen numerous advances in helping ID soldiers over his years at DAFB.

These technological advances are helping bring closures to many families of fallen soldiers.

“It’s very important. It’s been going on since 1991,” Dr. McMahon said. “We did the first DNA testing on Vietnam turnovers and recoveries in 1991 and it’s grown since then.

“To show how dedicated our personnel are to it we have a young staff of technicians and analysts and over 88 percent of them made the move from the Washington, D.C., area here to Dover.”

Bruchee Trotter was one of the six people who read off the list of names of fallen service members who have been identified.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this and know that somebody made the ultimate sacrifice and there are still people that we are out there looking for,” Ms. Trotter said. “We have the opportunity to work in the lab and to actually see it all come to fruition and to see these names that we are reading … it all means a lot.

“These are all people that have been identified this year. It’s just a small way that we can say ‘Thank you’ to them and ‘Thank you’ to their families for their sacrifices as well.”

Prior to Friday’s POW/MIA Retreat Ceremony, an estimated 300 airmen ran around the base for 24 consecutive hours carrying the United States and the POW/MIA flags in salute to the soldiers who were identified.

Details of four, including airmen and other military representatives, also stood their post around the U.S. flag in 10-minute intervals.

The ceremony began with an invocation before Colonel Lou Finelli, director of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, spoke briefly about his staff’s enduring mission.

“We still have many unaccounted for — 73,121 World War II missing, 7,801 Korean War missing, 1,618 Vietnam missing, 132 missing from the Cold War and other conflicts,” Colonel Finelli said.

“The Armed Forces Medical Examiners System and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency are fully committed with providing the fullest possible accounting to bring our armed service members home.”

Holly Krantz, Trotter, Gina Parada, Marina Bruner, Sean Patterson and Anne Osborn then read off the list of service members who have been identified over the past year.

Following the reading, which took place alongside the hum of a nearby C-17 Globemaster’s engines, the DAFB Honor Guard performed a three-volley salute, which is commonly referred to as the 21-gun salute.

Senior airman Warren Darrow then played “Taps” on his trumpet.

Larence Kirby, a retired Chief Master Sargent, served as the main speaker at the ceremony.

“In order for these recognitions to continue, we must understand their significance,” Mr. Kirby said. “You can show up and say you were there, but if you don’t comprehend the meaning then the moment is lost.

“Today’s meaning is to understand six white letters [POW/MIA] emblazed on a solemn black flag. These letters are more than another acronym, they represent heroes.”

On Friday, the return of 139 heroes was celebrated.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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