AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thousands of American families live every day wondering what happened to their loved ones who served our country, but never came home.
“It’s not okay to send someone to war and not be able to explain what happened to them,” said Karoni Forrester. When she was two years old, her father’s plane was shot down during the Vietnam War.
This weekend, she and other families will get a chance to learn what’s being done by the military to bring their loved ones home.
“I’m very proud of my father and his service to our country. Any story that anyone tells me about my dad is almost another piece of my dad given to me, because I don’t remember him,” said Forrester. “To be able to bring someone home and lay them to rest in the U.S., means a lot.”
Specialists with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) will be in Austin, briefing families on the U.S. government’s worldwide mission to account for those still missing, including those unaccounted from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and more recent conflicts.
Forrester says the rice patty that her father’s plane is believe to have crashed in has yet to be excavated. She’s told it will be a difficult mission.
“I don’t care if it’s hard, I want them to go dig the site. I continue to make that message clear,” Forrester says determinedly.
Families will also get a look at the forensic identification work done at the laboratory in Hawaii, as well as the analysis of mitochondrial DNA, one of the high-technology tools used by scientists to identify the remains recovered.
“These Americans need to be brought back home to their loved ones,” said Lt. Col. Holly Slaughter, with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. “It’s our sacred promise to our nation’s sons and daughters, when we put them in harm’s way, to bring them back home, that’s why it’s important.”
Specialists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) will also collect DNA samples from family members in attendance. The samples are then added to the family reference database, which is used to help make identifications.
Some families will have one-on-one discussions with military officials, receiving the latest information about the work being done on their individual cases.
Lt. Col. Slaughter says they identify about 100 people a year, yet there are still 83,000 service members and American personnel missing.
“These heroes deserve proper burial and this nation owes it to them to bring them home at all costs,” said Lt. Col. Slaughter.
Throughout the year, many family members travel to Washington, D.C. and Hawaii to review their case files, but many cannot make the trip. That’s why the program works to bring information home to communities.
The military says it’s critical they get more DNA samples from family members, so they have a better chance at identifying remains.
If you have a loved one unaccounted for, you’re welcome to attend the event Saturday, and provide that DNA.
The event will be held at Austin Hilton Airport Hotel on Saturday, April 16 at 9:00 a.m. The hotel is located at 9515 Hotel Drive, Austin, Texas 78719.