Frankly, it’s inexcusable. It was back in 1946 or 1947 that the U.S. government asked the family of Harry “Bud” Carlsen, a Brookfield native, if they wanted his remains repatriated to the United States. Since November 1943, Carlsen’s body has been buried on Betio Island, where the 31-year-old U.S. Marine sergeant died on the first day of the Battle of Tarawa.
Bud never returned home.
During the process of relocating bodies on the island after the battle, Carlsen’s remains were eventually determined to be “unrecoverable.” In fact, more than 500 of the roughly 1,000 American servicemen killed at Tarawa are still unaccounted for. Their remains are either buried, marked as “unknown” at the Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii or they remain buried somewhere on now densely populated Betio Island.
The government agency charged with finding and identifying the remains of those still reported as missing — the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) — has utterly failed to do its job with respect to these men.
Internal strife and resentful of the work of independent archaeologists, JPAC has done precious little to advance its mission. This past summer, reports by the Government Accountability Office and an internal JPAC report, which was obtained by the Associated Press, painted the agency as dysfunctional and headed toward “total failure.”
In the case of Carlsen, JPAC has disowned work completed by one of its own employees. That man, Rick Stone, had determined that Carlsen was one of six Marines from the battle who were “most likely matches” for a set of remains recovered from the island and buried in Hawaii.
Carlsen’s niece Nancy Spellman, who has since died, provided JPAC with a DNA sample back in 2009, according to her son, Ed. But the agency refuses to compare the DNA they have on file with the remains. A JPAC official reportedly has told Congressman Daniel Lipinski’s office that they’ve ruled out the match based on their own analysis.
We’ve seen Stone’s analysis — as a last resort, in 2012 after being given the heave-ho by JPAC, he sent out reports he had completed to family members looking for answers. JPAC’s analysis or their reasons for dismissing Stone’s research have been sorely lacking.
JPAC spends millions each year for its operations. In 2013, its budget was more than $20 million. The agency spends all kinds of money traveling to remote sites to recover remains — often unsuccessfully.
Yet they have remains steps away from their office, which their own research has determined could be a match for a Marine whose family already has submitted DNA for comparison.
How much effort and cost could it possibly take to make that comparison, to either rule it out definitively or find a match? JPAC says it’s not him. Frankly, we don’t have a lot of confidence in their findings.
JPAC owes it to the family to see if, indeed, the remains are those of Bud Carlsen. Compared to the Marine who faced hellfire and sacrificed his life to take a tiny island in the Pacific back in 1943, JPAC’s effort to find him pales in comparison.