Challenges to Identifications of the Cabanatuan Prison Camp Cemetery Remains

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Mary Megyesi


As part of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s (DPAA) mission to provide the fullest possible accounting for U.S. military personnel lost in past conflicts, disinterments of unknown remains from permanent U.S. military cemeteries have increased (Megyesi et al. 2016). Individuals who died as prisoners of war (POWs) at Cabanatuan Prison Camp and were buried as unknowns in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial are currently being disinterred and identified at the DPAA Laboratory in Hawai’i. Cabanatuan Prison Camp was one of several Japanese-run POW camps located on Luzon Island in the Philippines. The Cabanatuan remains are highly commingled due to a variety of circumstances related to their initial burial, recovery, and past analyses. Commingling in the Cabanatuan assemblage includes individuals that were identified and resolved soon after World War II and individuals that were unresolved, or “unknown.” These circumstances create anthropological and historical complexity for these cases. For instance, given a set of remains from a resolved individual, how do we navigate an identification for those remains, and the set of (now unknown) remains that were buried after an erroneous identification several decades ago? Identifying the commingled remains of Cabanatuan entails revisiting identifications made under completely different operational and scientific standards of the late 1940s. The goals of this article are to introduce the specific challenges of examination and identification of the Cabanatuan remains to the forensic anthropology community and to provide an example of a single identification made from this assemblage.

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