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Four Questions for Robert Laplander of Doughboy MIA

"Chasing their stories in order to understand what happened to them."

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission

This has been a big month for our friend Robert Laplander. He is the leader of a small group of volunteers called Doughboy MIA, a group that does research into the 4,224 missing service members from World War I. They try to bring accounting for those missing, as the U.S. Department of Defense is only able to support MIA research going back to World War II. Laplander had a breakthrough discovery on the case of Seaman Herbert Renshaw, a U.S. Navy sailor who was lost at sea during an anti-submarine combat patrol, off the coast of Virginia on 22 May 1917. In the Renshaw case, the seaman's name was evidently omitted from those MIA's named on the chapel wall at Brookwood Cemetery. The Brookwood chapel is an American Battle Monuments site, in the UK, which bears the names of missing US sailors, soldiers and Coast Guardsmen who died at sea during World War I combat operations. Laplander's success with the case has brought him significant media attention, which may help the Doughboy MIA group's efforts. Robert spoke to us about the efforts, and what this new attention means.Robert LaplanderRobert Laplander

This week before Memorial Day has been a very busy week for you. Tell us about your news media activity.

The media interest has been extraordinary! I've had to take two days off from work just to cover everything on the heavy days, and spend a certain amount of time each day answering email, doing interviews and answering calls. It really has been amazing and humbling. I am very gratified as the response and at the level that people do care about what we're doing and these men. It really has been something.

The reporters seemed to really respond to the Doughboy MIA story. Were there any surprising questions, or surprising approached to the story from them?

I have been very struck at the depth of real interest that the reporters have shown; a genuine, deep desire to hear the story and understand the organization. No one has just been going through the emotions on this. They have all asked intelligent and meaningful questions with as much of a desire to know for themselves as to report to story to their listeners/readers/viewers. It's amazing to see.

What does this attention mean for Doughboy MIA? How does this change the game?

The attention the Renshaw case has brought us has enabled us to get the word to a much wider audience and all that brings possibility for more support. I've already been fielding inquiries from folks wanting to know how they can help.

What are your next steps? What else needs to happen for the Doughboy MIA efforts?

Moving forward, we continue walking the same path - chasing their stories in order to understand what happened to them. We are now looking closely at possible recovery attempts in France, as well as continuing to comb the government archives for the missing paperwork we've been seeking for 12 years now that will enable us to successfully at least one case.

If there is anyone out there that thinks they might be able to help locate something lost in the archives, we'd be happy to hear from You! The other hurdle we are facing is from a funding standpoint - thus far I have pretty much funded this out of pocket, but we have come to a point where that will no longer be feasible. If someone is will to converse with me who is strong in the financial sector, I'd like to hear from them, too.

I would also like to take a moment and acknowledge some people and institutions that have greatly advanced our cause. First and foremost the USWW1CC. The Commission has been our 'dad' and our guide from the start, lending advice and services unstintingly. Most especially Theo Mayer, who regularly deals with a certain technologically challenged individual who is still decimated by 78 rpm records; Chris Christopher, whose brainchild Doughboy MIA was in the first place; and Chris Isleib who has definitely put us on the map.

And we need to acknowledge the ABMC, who have been not only supportive but helpful in every way they could be. Without their cooperation and interest in our work we quite simply could not do what we do. Special thanks to Colonel Rob Dalesandro and Mr. Tim Nosal, both of whom have moved us the mountains whenever we've asked.

And if course the folks at NARA. There are simply too many to list - everyone there has always helped us readily and cheerfully and have backed our every step, even frequently going above and beyond to help us with both suggestions and method. Thanks guys (and gals)!

Visit the Doughboy MIA page on the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission web site.