CIA is proud to share a story about the U.S. military’s steadfast efforts to reunite the remains of a fallen World War II hero with his family—including a great-niece who serves as one of the Agency’s representatives to the Department of Defense.
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If you ever visit the Pentagon, make sure to check out the permanent Prisoners of War (POW)/Missing in Action (MIA) exhibit that features a collection of photographs, information, and historic objects that honor the airmen, marines, sailors, and soldiers who have been POWs or MIAs since World War II.
For decades, the Department of Defense (DOD) has worked to bring fallen or captive service members home to their loved ones. Efforts began in the 1970s when DOD established Central Identification Laboratory to coordinate POW/MIA recovery in Southeast Asia. In 1992, DOD stood up Joint Task Force-Full Accounting to find POWs/MIAs from the Vietnam War. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command picked up the mantle in 2003. Then, in 2015, these organizations and the priceless legacy of their work combined into the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
The DPAA employs more than 600 joint military and civilian personnel, and its Central Identification Laboratory is the largest and most diverse forensic skeletal laboratory in the world. Last year, DPAA accounted for 142 previously missing DOD personnel and undertook recovery missions across 31 countries.
One CIA Officer’s Personal and Professional Ties to DOD
For Noëlle, a seasoned CIA officer, working with DOD has been rewarding on many levels. She occasionally passes through the POW/MIA Corridor as she walks the halls of the Pentagon making vital connections between CIA and DOD. In these moments, she remembers Uncle Al, her great-uncle, whose remains were recovered by DOD in 2006, 63 years after he was killed during WWII.
William “Al” Bujold was a native of Rumford, Maine and a graduate of Bentley College in Massachusetts. He entered the U.S. Army on January 16, 1942, shortly after Japan’s infamous attack against Pearl Harbor that spurred America to declare war. Al graduated from flight school in December 1942 and became an Army Air Corps Second Lieutenant. He planned to work for one of the major accounting firms upon his return from the war.
Gunned Down in Enemy Territory
Al was the navigator of a B-17E heavy bomber with the 64th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group.
On May 21, 1943, he was part of a team that launched a night bombing run against Japanese-occupied Rabaul Harbor in Papua New Guinea. They took off for their mission from Port Moresby armed with a mix of 300-pound bombs and 20-pound fragmentation clusters. Interestingly, the flight manifest showed one extra man aboard the aircraft—likely for intelligence collection.
In the night skies, the 11 men fatefully encountered Japanese pilot, Lt. Shigetoshi Kudo, a veteran of World War I who would later become the first night fighter ace of the Pacific. The Japanese had modified two J1N1 Gekko (“Moonlight”) Irving aircraft as night fighters armed with fixed 20mm cannons angled upward and downward at 30-degree angles. The lightly-armored B-17Es were no match for the Moonlight’s hail of cannon fire. Kudo later reported that he flew below them and used the upward-firing oblique cannon to shoot down the B-17E.
Al, at 24-years-old, was one of seven men killed instantly when their aircraft crashed near Putput Plantation, Papua New Guinea. The four men at the rear of the aircraft were able to parachute out, but tragically, the Japanese captured and later executed them in a prison camp on November 25, 1943.
Missing in Action
When the Army listed Al as missing in action, Al’s mother had his name engraved on her tombstone, anticipating that he would eventually be found. She died in 1944 of a broken heart, according to family lore, two years before her son was officially declared dead on January 8, 1946.
On December 17, 1947, an Army search team located the wreckage of Al’s B-17E on a mountainside near the Warangoi River, 25 miles southeast of Rabaul. The Army recovered the remains of all seven men but were unable to individually identify them at that time. In September 1951, those remains were buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.
Al’s nephew Joe later recalled, “As far as we were concerned, the group interment was the end of it.”
But it wasn’t the end for DOD.
DOD’s identification efforts persisted some 9,000 miles away from Al’s home state of Maine. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command executed a difficult archeological excavation of the jungle crash site in Papua New Guinea.
In 2000, Al’s relatives got an unexpected phone call. Army teams had recovered more remains and were conducting DNA analysis to identify all seven men lost in the 1943 crash.
The Persistence of DOD’s Forensic Cadre
More than 30 anthropologists, archaeologists, and forensic odontologists staff the DPAA laboratory today. At a recovery site, the lead anthropologist directs the excavation much like a detective oversees a crime scene. Standard recovery missions last 35 to 60 days, and recovery sites can be as small as a few meters to—in the case of airplane crashes—areas exceeding the size of a football field.
Once investigators define a site perimeter, the anthropologists establish a grid system and section the site with stakes and string. They excavate each section one grid at a time and screen every inch of soil that comes out of the site for potential remains or material evidence. Initial analysis occurs at the site, and the material is then brought back to the lab for additional examination.
Upon arrival at the DPAA lab, forensic anthropologists use rigorous scientific methods to examine the remains and learn more about the individual’s sex, race, stature, and age at death. They also analyze military uniforms, personal effects, and identification tags and link any DNA evidence with recovered artifacts and other historical factors to confirm a positive identification.
This is how the DPPA positively identified Al’s remains. His recovery is a testament to the painstaking fieldwork and research of our DOD colleagues and speaks volumes about American values.
After six decades, the families of the crew finally had closure. DOD contacted each family and flew them to Jefferson Army Barracks, Missouri, for an emotional reunion. There the families could meet and share stories of the men killed in action.
Finally Saying Goodbye
In 2007, Uncle Al received a full military funeral for which much of the state of Maine turned out. A cross-section of locals lined the streets, from veterans to schoolchildren to Walmart employees on their break, all waving American flags.
As his mother always wanted, Al was laid to rest next to his parents. For the Bujold family, it was deeply moving to see how the veteran community honored one of their own.
“This is about the end of America’s Greatest Generation,” Joe said. “It’s about Maine, the military, and their concept, ‘No one left behind.'”
Noëlle reflected on her great-uncle’s legacy of service to the country, a country that would not give up on his final homecoming, no matter how long it took. “The U.S. does it right. DOD recovery efforts set the standard for the international community, and we should all be very proud.”