An anonymous POW buried in an American war cemetery in the Philippines isn't "X-816," it's Bud Kelder, say family members who have finally won their fight to have the remains disinterred. The 26-year-old Army medic survived the Bataan Death March but died in a POW camp and was buried in a communal grave along with 13 other Americans who also died on Nov. 19, 1942; four were later identified, but the remaining 10 were left in Grave 717. After carrying out their own research and studying declassified burial records, family members zeroed in on Grave 717, and "Manila #2 X-816" in particular—the only unknown in the grave that records show had gold inlays in his teeth, as Kelder did. But it has taken a long fight, and a lawsuit, to get the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to agree to dig up the remains and carry out DNA testing, ProPublica finds. The military also plans to disinter the remains of the others in the grave who were never identified.
J-PAC receives $100 million a year to do its work but only identified 60 service members last year out of the more than 73,000 Americans still missing from WWII. Relatives—and J-PAC whistleblowers—say J-PAC is choosing to ignore modern technology and war documents that could identify many World War II unknowns, Stars and Stripes found when it reported on the Kelder case last year. The cousin who did the bulk of the investigative work says that while the family is overjoyed that they could soon finally be able to bury Kelder in the family crypt in Chicago, the government has only changed its stance because of the lawsuit, not because it sees it as the right thing to do. "This will be a hollow victory for MIA families unless the US government undertakes substantial and meaningful reforms of the MIA accounting process," he says. (Meanwhile, rising seas are washing up WWII skeletons.)