Who runs Doughboy MIA?
Doughboy MIA is run by Robert J. Laplander and his wife, Trinie. Robert is best known for his work with the famous Lost Battalion of the 77th Division in WW1 and his book, Finding the Lost Battalion: Beyond the Rumors, Myths and Legends of America's Famous WW1 Epic, is considered to be the 'bible' of that action. He has appeared in numerous print, radio, and television outlets for his work concerning the First World War, most recently being featured in the 6-hour, 3-part PBS television event 'The Great War'; part of the American Experience series. Trinie Laplander is an educator with over 20 years experience and holds a Masters of Education degree in Instructional Technology. Together they have explored the history of America's missing soldiers of WW1 for nearly 15 years now and have been on the battlefields in Europe five times. Additionally, Robert leads tours in the Meuse-Argonne area and regularly consults on burial and remains retrieval by the GRS in WW1. They live in Waterford, Wisconsin with their three children and a tall, skinny dog.
The overseas arm of Doughboy MIA is staffed by Mr. Sjoerd 'Red' Van der Ven and Mr. Peter Wever, both from the Netherlands.
Peter Wever is the team's medical/anatomical director. He is a medical doctor working as a clinical microbiologist in a general hospital in the Netherlands. He became interested in WWI after his parents-in-law permanently moved to the Meuse Department in Northern France. In 2010, he and his friends took their first guided battlefield tour, after which they regularly set out for the former trenches themselves. This sparked further interest, particularly in the activities of the U.S. Army Medical Department during WWI, which resulted in a collection of medical items from the war currently on display in an exhibition called “Wounds, Disease and Medical Care in the 1918 Meuse-Argonne Offensive” at the private museum “Meuse-Argonne 1918” in Nantillois, France.His interest in WWI has led to several published articles on medical aspects of WWI, focusing on the infectious diseases that were abundantly present during the war, as well as a treatise on the missing in action doughboys. He is currently writing a book on U.S. Army base hospitals which will be published by the U.S. Army Medical Department. On invitation, he speaks about medical aspects of WWI for service clubs and other institutions.
Sjoerd 'Red' Van der Ven, aka 'the Dutch Doughboy', is the team's battleground topographical expert. He was just 4 weeks old when he first visited the Meuse-Argonne. His parents bought a house "over there" and he grew up on the old battlefield as he went every vacation he had in his youth. As a kid he spent most of the time out in the woods and he started to find items from the Great War and learned how to 'read' the scars in the landscape which are still visible today. This started a passion that persists to this day. In 2014 he bought his first US uniform and educated the public of the Romagne 14-18 museum via his impression and at other events. His expertise is the 89th Division sector and he has much knowledge of the US involvement in World War 1 and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Our chief associate researcher is Mrs. Nancy Schaff of Maryland. Nancy Schaff is dedicated to honoring the sacrifices of her grandfather, CPL John Blazosky, and all the doughboys who fought in WWI. She is President of the Descendants & Friends of the 314th Infantry, 79th Division A.E.F., an organization that has held an annual Memorial Service for the past 99 years. She also serves as a Commissioner on the Maryland WWI Centennial Commission, has written a series of WWI Maker activities for youth, and co-leads the Maryland WWI Network.
Mrs. Jana Churchwell-Scott is the team's genealogical expert. Jana Churchwell Scott is a professional genealogist whose work focuses specifically in military service and records research. Inspired by the loss of her cousins and uncle in both WWI & WWII, several whose status is MIA, she has dedicated her career and time to the memory of these men and their families. Specializing in both combat and non-combat missing, she has worked tirelessly to research, document, locate, and reach out to the families of our lost soldiers. Her research involves such projects as indexing of Unknown soldier burial file information and organizing families in private support groups for military missing. She performs family investigations for U.S. military casualty offices, for aviation archaeology interest groups, and for multiple MIA non-profit organizations. She is proud to assist and be a part of the research team at Doughboy-MIA.
Our air service expert is Mr. Daniel C. Williamson. Mr. Williamson is a retired Lieutenant Colonel with over 34 years of service in the United States Army Military Police Corps. Over his career Williamson served as Provost Marshal in the Republic of Panama, an Investigator, a Military History Instructor/Assistant Professor of Military Science and an Assistance Adjunct Professor at the University of California Davis, and served two tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His final assignments included commanding the California Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, and as a Strategic Planner and Operations Officer within National Guard Bureau’s Installations and Environmental Directorate in Arlington, Virginia. Mr. Williamson is married to his wife Cheryl, a 28 a year Army veteran and retired Sergeant Major and they have two children, Mark who is currently serving in the USAF for over thirteen years, and Ashley who is a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Aeronautical Engineering.
UPDATE 21MAY2017 AND OUR FIRST SUCCESS!
It's been a while since this page has seen any updated. With the centennial of America's entry into the war in April, 2017, Mr. Laplander was kept very busy with duties associated with the 3-part, 6-hour PBS American Experience series 'The Great War', in which he was one of the 'talking heads'. For several weeks leading up to the airing of the special, Doughboy MIA took a necessary back seat to promotional work for the series and for the release of the 100th anniversary edition of his book Finding the Lost Battalion, which occurred in March. Your patience has been appreciated.
However the big news is that also in March, Dr. Stephen Gehnrich of Salisbury University in Maryland contacted us concerning a sailor from Baltimore who was listed as the first Marylander to die in the war (May 22nd, 1917) and was Lost at Sea. He was listed in the Maryland casualty database and in his county war history, but was found to NOT be included on the Doughboy MIA database. We immediately launched an investigation and found that the sailor - Seaman Herbert Hammond Renshaw - was not only not listed on our database, but was also not listed with the ABMC and as such not commemorated on any of the Wall to the Missing at any US Military cemetery as he should have been. Doughboy MIA spent a month building a case for Renshaw and double checking facts before submitting a report on the nearly one hundred year old omission to the ABMC on April 25th.
On April 28th we received the official letter from the ABMC stating that they had reviewed and approved the case based on the good work of Doughboy MIA and had thus approved Seaman Renshaw's name to be engraved alongside the other US service personnel listed as Lost at Sea on the Wall to the Missing at Brookwood American Military Cemetery in England. This report and the authorization letter will be posted in the next couple of days for public consumption. We have had our first major success in making sure that a lost American serviceman from the Great War is not forgotten!
Between May 18th and May 21st, Mr. Laplander has been busy speaking to almost a dozen news outlets on the story, including ABC, NBC, CBS, History.com and the Wall Street Journal. Many of these stories are to run on Monday, May 22nd, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Seaman Renshaw's loss. Keep an eye and ear out for these. Links for all, when possible, will be posted here as soon as possible. With out first success under our belt, we look with enthusiasm to the next!
Doughboy MIA also welcomes Sjoerd Van der Ven and Peter Wever to the team as leads to our new overseas research arm!
Update for week ending 03AUG2016:
We have had two small expeditions down to College Park NARA and spoken with the Army Records manager and some people at Mortuary Affairs this summer, looking for what we need and spreading the word of our work. We had a few possible leads, but so far nothing has panned out. Nevertheless, each step leads us closer to the goal. We are now focusing our efforts on the National Personnel Records Center at St. Louis. We will be heading down with a small team Sunday afternoon for a Monday research day and so far have been extended every courtesy and assistance in the planning stage.
We also have been in touch with the director of the Army Quartermaster Corps Museum and he's combing files on his end and has offered to provide as much information as we might need concerning the temporary cemeteries from the time. This is a very valuable resource and we cannot thank them enough.
Update for week ending 30MAY2016:
We have had several updates placed in the Active Cases section, including a new one assigned Case #9 which is a Marine found on Hill 142 in 1988. We are proud to note that COL William Anderson, USMC (Ret.) has joined us on this case and has pretty much provided all the starting research. Thanks a million Colonel! Be sure to check that case out.
The former Case #9 (Ambulance Man) has been reassigned to Case #16. It was discovered they were one in the same.
New information in Case #18 may prove to be beneficial for a minor breakthrough in that case, but the missing paperwork for the Unknowns must be found to make definitive identification.
General Research Appeal: We are working every angle possible that we can think of to find the missing paperwork for the Unknowns (see the Active Cases section for an explanation of just what it is we need), but we believe that it'll be found faster through networking. Pass along our website and contact info to ANYONE you know who might have an idea where to search. Bear in mind that we've been at this for a dozen years now, so looking under the obvious rocks has been done more than once. We believe that the paperwork may still be in the hands of the army, but this is only an educated guess. Even then, we need inside contacts - older former serving people who may have seen this paperwork in their careers at one time or another. I can email examples of exactly what it is we are after to anyone who needs to see it.
We are also in need of 'benefactors' to help us move forward. Researching these men is something my wife and I do in our own time, but copies of the BCF's and other official paperwork and trips to paperwork sites (or the independent researchers to do the looking if we cannot go) costs money. Thus far we have funded the project out of pocket, but it's getting to be far bigger than we can afford with three kids to feed. To that end we are looking for someone who can help us set Doughboy MIA up as a non-profit and then someone willing to give us money, to put it plainly. It's not a huge amount we seek, but it is substantially more than we can afford on our own. If you can help, please contact me.
Update for week ending 01MAY2016:
I teased it last week, now here is the straight dope: As we continue to work our way through the great information we gathered from NARA-College Park, MD, we are pleased to announce that one mystery is solved, that of Case #10, PVT Thomas P. McDonald, USMC and KIA 03OCT1918. This name appears twice on the ABMC's searchable database - once from Iowa and once from Idaho - and the question was, were the two names actually the same man? That has been proven to be indeed the case and the Doughboy MIA report on this has been handed in to the WW1 Centennial Commission for review. Once they are satisfied with the results, the report will then begin moving along the path to getting this situation fixed. When it is cleared for public consumption, the report will be posted here.
We are also working on updating the MIA Database. It has been noted that somewhere along the line the file corrupted and some things are not where they should be on it. This is being fixed and updates are being entered from a ten page report that team members Nancy and Lauren Schaff found at the Archives last trip detailing all army personnel buried at sea. Great work you two!
Nancy and Lauren also brought out copies of reports and letters dealing with interments from the two expeditions to Russia a decade after the war to bring out bodies. This information, along with copies of all the burial cards from the N.R.A.E.F. during the war is bringing more clarity to a somewhat murky situation. Eventually, we will be copying everything we found at NARA and donating the copies to the Polar Bear Society (who are dedicated to remembering the men of the N.R.A.E.F.) in Michigan.
National Archives Research Notes - Trip #2:
Wow – what a week it was for Doughboy MIA! A second expedition went down to NARA/College Park last Wednesday and Thursday consisting of team members Nancy Schaff and her daughter Lauren. This time it was to paw through the files of the ABMC (American Battle Monuments Commission – the entity that has administered to the US cemeteries overseas since 1934). Boy did they strike silver here! We now have a complete list of all army burials at sea during the war, as well as more on the expeditions to Russia to recover remains of MIA’s in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. There was also information in there concerning the recoveries in the 1930’s. And all that is just at first glance! I’ll be posting more updates as we work our way through all that they found. Way to go Nancy and Lauren – you struck a fine vein of info! Doughboy salute!
We are still looking for the form 16-A disinterment and reburial forms for the Unknowns though. That is the true ‘Golden Egg’ folks (as team member Mitch Yokelson puts it). With those files we can make some real in-roads into tying some of the Unknown graves to some of our MIA Doughboys. So the search continues.
We are also close to making a breakthrough concerning another case. I know that’s just a tease, but a few more things need to come together before any official announcements can be made.
Also, you will be invited to check back on Doughboy MIA here on the WW1 Centennial Commission website every Monday from now on for the weekly update.
National Archives Research Notes - Trip #1:
4/1/16 We wrapped it all up today. While we may not have located the burial cards themselves, we did catalogue and collect much useful information, as well as a plat of the original cemetery lay out. This alone may be worth its weight in gold. Tune in again for more updates as we have a chance to sort through all the information gathered in the coming weeks.
Note that today we uncovered the burial cards of the men from the NRAEF who were interred in Russian cemeteries! As time permits we will be comparing these records with those provided by the 'Polar Bears' in Detroit (the remembrance society for the NRAEF). We are also going to gift a full copy of these cards to the Polar Bears.
Another day in the records mine! Today we were joined by an honor guard soldier, Joshua Wesnidge. We are looking through the last couple of CPS boxes now. Trinie scanned the burial case files for Americans buried in Russian cemeteries. We also located two boxes worth of Lost Batallion information as well as other 77th division information that may give us some new answers.
Working in the map room. They couldn't make a copy of the map as it was too damaged, so Robert took tons of pics instead. Thank you to Nancy Schaff for joining us today. With her help, we cleared the majority of the rest of what was in the Graves Registration files. No burial cards of the type we need. BUT, we did get to see that original map of the Meuse-Argonne Argonne cemetery from 1920, which may yield clues. Lots to do when we get back in that direction.
Covered lots of ground today with a team of five local assistants, but have yet to locate the necessary cards. Thank you to Mike Rauer, Angelo DeCecco, Nancy Schaff, and Kurt Schwarz & Patsy Keenan. We made many interesting and useful discoveries though, and Trinie has been carefully cataloging everything. What the box says is in the box isn't always what's in there, so the records we are keeping will help in the future. Plenty left to explore and dive into today.
Did the initial pull at the Archives this afternoon. Despite being exhausted from the drive I just couldn't wait and so worked through some of the less likely spots. Found the KIA card for our man and the WIA card for the Lost Battalion guy whose diary I checked out earlier today. Got my pull slips started for tomorrow so we can hit the ground running right off.