By 1934, when all investigation into location and identification of remains was suspended, there were some 1,697 sets of remains resting in American cemeteries under headstones inscribed 'Here Lies In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God'. These became popularly referred to as the 'Unknowns'. When the chapels were constructed on the grounds of the U.S. cemeteries Over There, they included Walls of the Missing. On these various walls were inscribed for all time the names of all men who had been listed as Missing in Action in the general vicinity of that location, or with a unit that had operated close by. There are more than 4,400 names across the Walls, many of them Lost or Buried At Sea, for whom no hope of recovery could be held out.
Certainly then, there are 1,697 names on those Walls who belong to the remains in those 1,697 'Unknown' graves. Might it yet be possible to 'marry' a name with an interred set of remains? We believe that in at least one case - and possibly more - that it can. And we intend to try.
From our Mission Statement:
If you feel you would like to volunteer research time to this cause or can assist in some other way, please feel free to drop us a line. In the meantime, take a look below at Case #1 - the case that started this whole thing:
The case of PVT Eugene Michael McGrath, ASN3133217, CO C/308 INF/77 DIV
This is the case that started it all for us and thus we use it as an illustration of the way many of these cases go, so bear with us. The complete list of open cases we are handling follows.
On October 5th, 1918, while elements of the 1st Battalion/308th Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division was surrounded in the Charlevaux Ravine within the Argonne Forest in France (an episode that will forever be famous as the saga of the Lost Battalion), one Eugene Michael McGrath, a private in Company C, was killed by shrapnel. His body was to lie in his funk hole (fox hole) for three days until the full relief of the unit on the morning of October 8th, 1918. Soon thereafter, he was disinterred and reburied in grave #43 in Temporary American Cemetery #745. While no dog tags were apparently found on the body – none were affixed to the cross at the head of the grave nor interred with the body – someone must have had at least a clue who he was, as the initials E M were marked on the cross. No other KIA in the Lost Battalion nor anywhere in that section of the Argonne that had those same initials was buried in that cemetery. Further investigation has proven that of the other two men killed in that general area, both are accounted for, making the body in that grave without doubt that of Eugene Michael McGrath.
In February of 1919, members of the 805th Pioneer Infantry, working for the Graves Registration Service of the AEF moved into the area and began combing the vicinity around the cemetery and Charlevaux Ravine for addition MIA’s reported from the actions there. The 805th also was responsible for care-taking cemetery #745, and during this time the graves were renumbered in official paperwork using a different system, and McGrath’s grave number 43 became grave number 87.
In March and April, 1919, cemetery #745 was evacuated in its entirety, the bodies being transferred to the main collection point at the main cemetery #1232. During this transfer, the cross at the head of E.M. McGrath’s grave (#43/87) became separated from the body, making any identification of the remains impossible. Consequently, these remains were concentrated to a temporary ‘Unknown’ grave and when later identification proved fruitless the remains were interred in a permanent grave in cemetery #1232 under an ‘Unknown’ grave stone.
McGrath's parents received the notification of their son’s death on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 1918. With no further word from the government concerning him, they made inquiries to the Graves Registration Service in February, 1919, but to little effect. A short series of letters followed between then and April, 1921 when the government conceded that while Eugene’s grave was unknown and likely would never be identified, they were confident that he was within the main cemetery in one of the ‘Unknown’ graves there. Following the settlement of his government death insurance policy, the next contact between family and government would be during the Gold Star Mother’s tours offered by the government in 1930 and 1931. Mrs. McGrath turned down the offer as there was no grave for her to go and see and her health would not permit it. For all intents and purposes, the burial files on those men KIA-Body Not Recovered and MIA during the war were closed in 1932 and no further identification work was done. The McGrath's died never knowing what happened to their boy.
Then in 2001, one of McGrath’s dog tags turned up on the hillside where the Lost Battalion had been surrounded, and by 2004 it had made its way to me and I began to research what had happened to him. I first had pulled and copied McGrath’s burial case file and it dead ends, of course. However, I have also examined a myriad of other burial case files from cemetery #745 in hopes of finding clues that might assist in identifying him. These have included a file for one Sigurd Lima, also killed in the Charlevaux Ravine during the same episode that claimed McGrath’s life. Lima’s remains went unidentified until 1932, when he was finally ID’d through dental records. However, the most important fact I learned concerning Lima’s case is that prior to his remains being identified, while they were still officially classed as unknown, they did have a burial case file associated with them, filed under a control number instead of a name and this number was proceeded by a ‘U’. Therefore these files for unidentified remains were known as the ‘U files’. Thus Lima’s remains held a U designation until identified in 1932, when his U file was merged with his actual burial case file (which, until then, would have dead ended, much the same as McGrath’s does) at which time the ‘U’ number was dismissed.
The most significant feature of burial case files, as far as we are concerned however, is that each file virtually always contains a form that lists just where the remains were originally found, be they in a battlefield grave, found out in the open in the forest, in a local cemetery – or in a US temporary cemetery, which would also list the grave number there. This was known as GRS Form #1-A and map coordinates would be given for any locality for accuracy. More importantly, there would also be one or more of a form 16-A. This is a disinterment/interment report that was filled out every time a set of remains was moved from one grave locality to another, giving particulars about the remains, where they came from and where they went. And for every set of remains permanently interred in France, there would be a 16-A that would show where those remains wound up in the permanent cemetery; a ‘cemetery address’, if you will, listing the block, row and grave number. That said, there should exist somewhere files of those 16-A's, and one of those would show a set of remains found in US temporary cemetery #745, grave # 43/87, and where in the US cemetery #1232 those remains rest to this day. Find that paperwork and we have found Eugene Michael McGrath - and, as you'll read below, possibly others.
Last summer, I was in contact with the former director of the US cemetery at Belleau Wood, who shared with me that he had – on site – the 'burial cards' for the men in his cemetery, including the cards for the Unknowns there. Here was some interesting information! These burial cards are index sized cards which contain final movement information on a set of remains. What I further discovered though, was that his cemetery appears to be the only one that has those burial cards on site and the 16-A's that generated the information for those cards were nowhere to be found. A research trip to the National Archives at College Park, MD, at the end of March, 2016 - where all the records of the Graves Registration Service for WW1 are kept - proved that while the burial cards for the known buried at the other cemeteries are in the files there, the cards for the Unknowns are not...
Where are the burial cards or the burial records for the Unknowns then; particularly the 16-A's? We don't know yet, but with each research expedition, with each research inquiry, we draw closer to locating them. If we can find them, then it is possible that we may be able to locate not just McGrath, but a few other missing men as well and provide a necessary service to the DPAA, who have neither the funding nor resources to chase after WW1 MIA’s. No matter – that’s part of why Doughboy MIA exists. If we can find even one man it will all have been worth it.
Battalion Sergeant-Major George P. Storm, ASN44579, 3rd BN/16th INF/1st DIV
Battalion Sergeant-Major George P. Storm was KIA by shrapnel on 04OCT1918 southwest of Exermont during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. He was buried where he fell and his grave marked, but the markers were later obliterated and his grave lost to the wilderness of the battlefield. After the war, he went unfound and a second search in 1925 again turned up nothing. However, inconsistencies in his case warrant a closer look with today's technology and a researcher working with the 1st Division Museum in Wheaton, Illinois has asked Doughboy MIA to look into the case. We believe there is a possibility Sergeant-Major might yet be found and a full report for the 1st Division Museum people is being worked up now.
PVT William F. Churchwell, ASN96222, CO C/167th INF/42nd DIV
Pvt. Churchwell was KIA July 26th, 1918. His cousin, a WW2 MIA researcher named Jana Churchwell, asked us to look into this case as it lies in our field of expertise. From initial research it appears that PVT Churchwell's body may have been interred under the incorrect cross in the first cemetery he was buried in. This case will likely take far more in depth research than it may at first appear, but we are surely going to give it every attention.
Cases #4, 5, 6, 7 & 8
Men of the 314th INF/79th DIV
UPDATE - 30MAY2016
A short while ago we were approached by the 314th Infantry Association to investigate the cases of the five MIA's on their roster from WW1. Those men are: Case #4, PVT Arthur E. Baldenweck, HQ CO; Case # 5, CPL Elmer F. Gardner, MG CO.; Case # 6, PVT Edward M. McAvoy, CO M; Case # 7, PVT Francis L. McEll, CO L; and Case # 8, CPL Everett E. Hogoboom, CO M. Last week we were given permission to release details from the preliminary investigations. Here they are:
Baldenweck, Gardner and McAvoy - All three of these men remain on the battlefield. There is no indication that at the time of active search following the war that any remains were recovered in their reported burial areas that held the possibility of identification with these men. Additionally, each man was buried with an identification tag on his person and the other tag affixed to a burial peg or cross. Therefore it is entirely possible that these men could still be found using the technology that we have available today (spacial imaging/mapping, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), and metal detectors); most especially in the case of McAvoy. Any remains recovered could easily be matched to the information in each man's BCF. With careful planning and the right dedicated individuals on the effort, I feel confidant that a recovery expedition over there would have a better than average chance at success. These cases remain open/in suspension.
McEll - It appears that McEll was actually found following the war and is among the Unknowns at Cemetery 1232 (Meuse-Argonne Cemetery). However, without the original form 16-A's for the Unknowns (the original disinterment/reinterment form filled out each time a set of remains were moved) it is not possible to identify which set of Unknown remains his might be. If these forms can be found, it is entirely possible we may be able to identify which set of remains is McEll's through matching original burial locations and dentals contained on the 16-A of the Unknown and those from McEll's BCF. (This is much the same situation as with PVT McGrath, case #1.) This case remains open/in suspension pending the discovery of these files.
Hogoboom - This is a far more difficult case. It appears there are several different possibilities on what happened to him. 1) He remains unfound. There is plenty of conflicting information in the BCF to support this, and the day he was killed was a particularly bad one for his unit. 2) He was found as one of three men the chaplain reports he buried at a specific spot in which the GRS searchers working this case only found empty graves. It appears however that only two names for these graves appear in the BCF, meaning that Hogoboom could be the third. In that case, he would be buried as an Unknown and only the form 16-A's can provide an answer here. 3) He may be a badly mutilated body the chaplain also mentions burying that may or may not have had tags and may or may not have been located. In this case, a ground investigation would need to be made.
For now this case remains open/in suspension as well, but with deep reservations. If the 16-A's are found, a little elbow grease would prove/disprove that possible aspect of this case. Or the case might be made for a ground expedition to be attempted, though I believe this is a long shot without a whole lot of deeper investigation.
U-1374 'Ambulance Man'
This is an Unknown at the Aisne-Marne Cemetery #1764 (Belleau Wood) whose Burial Card indicates that he was from Ambulance Company 738. However, the US Order of Battle for the AEF both at home and abroad shows no such ambulance company in the inventory that we have found. The possibility does exist, however, that this man is MIA from a Motor Transport Company. This case remains open/in suspension.
PVT Thomas P. McDonald - USMC, 6th MG Bn, 2nd DIV
PVT McDonald is reported as MIA on 03OCT1918. Trouble arose when it was discovered that this same name and rank is shown twice on the official ABMC list of the MIA from WW1 in association with this unit with both also missing the same day - one from Idaho and the other from Iowa. Are they in fact the same man? There should be an answer to this case relatively quickly.
Update - 30MAY2016
We are now wrapping up this case. The outcome is that the two names do indeed refer to the same man and a mistake was made somewhere along the way concerning the official list, though McDonald's name appears only once on the Walls of the Missing at the Meuse-Argonne cemetery. Our report is working it's way along channels right now where we trust the issue will get cleared up. Once the official report is cleared for public consumption we will be posting it here.
Cases #11, 12 & 13
CPL John Conway, PFC Curtis Dye and PVT Joseph Cusic - CO B/313th MG BN/80th DIV
UPDATE - 30MAY2016
All three men were KIA and buried in the general vicinity of each other, though the burying chaplain gives conflicting reports. Thus, there is considerable confusion concerning their actual location of burial, but the weight of evidence suggests that Conway and Dye were found during search efforts in 1929, though in somewhat different locations than those indicated by the chaplain. Cusic however still remains unaccounted for. It will be necessary to find the burial records of the Unknowns to clarify the cases of Conway and Dye, and there may also be an indication of what happened to Cusic. These cases remain open/in suspension.
This is an Unknown buried at the Aisne-Marne cemetery at Belleau Wood. Besides dentals, evidence found with the remains in 1922 indicate his initials were E.M.M. We are trying to match these remains with an MIA with those initials from a unit working in the vicinity of where the remains were originally recovered.
UPDATE - 30MAY2016
This is an Unknown buried at the Aisne-Marne cemetery at Belleau Wood. Evidence found with the remains in 1922 indicate his initials were J.R.S. We are trying to match these remains with an MIA with those initials from a unit working in the vicinity of where the remains were originally recovered.
Hill 142 Marine
This is a set of remains that turned up near Hill 142 at Belleau Wood in 1988 who was buried as an Unknown. We are fortunate and honored to have volunteer Doughboy MIA team member COL William Anderson, USMC (Ret.) assisting with this case. There may not be much to go on here, as only a partial set of remains was recovered, indicating that the man may well have been an artillery KIA blown into the area where he was found decades later and simply buried by the battle. Updates on this case will follow as they develop, but this is a Class B case right now.
This is an Unknown buried at the Aisne-Marne cemetery at Belleau Wood. Details to follow.
This is an Unknown aviator buried at the Aisne-Marne cemetery at Belleau Wood. Details to follow.
UPDATE - 30MAY2016
Copies of the burial card for this set of remain have come through and indicate that this set of remains was originally identified with two separate U numbers - U-999 and U-1000. On 18DEC1922 it was determined that the two sets of partial remains associated with the two previous U numbers were in fact the remains of one man and the remains concentrated to one grave as U-1000 in temporary cemetery #617 at Fismes. On 21DEC1922 these remains were then concentrated to central US cemetery #1764 (Aisne-Marne) where they were interred permanently. As the number of aviators who are MIA from the war are relatively few, determination will be made as to which aviator(s) disappeared in the Fismes region and attempts made to make an association. However, without the missing 16-A forms for the Unknowns identifying the remains with an actual officer flyer could prove problematic. This case remains open/in suspension.
This is an Unknown aviator buried at the Aisne-Marne cemetery at Belleau Wood. Details to follow.