The US agency identifies three soldiers who went missing while on duty

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On Memorial Day, Americans honor those who have sacrificed their lives for our country. Many families of those who have gone missing have not had the full opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency is trying to change that.

“It's really a fulfillment of a promise to service members we sent to war and didn't come home,” said Kelly McKeague, director of the agency.

AMERICAN HEROES FROM THE Second World War ADOPTED IN PROJECT 'FACES OF MARGRATEN' BY 'THANKFUL' NETHERLANDS

2nd Lt. Fred Brewer

According to the National Museum of the US Air Force, more than 2.2 million pilots served in World War II. Of those, 355 were Tuskegee Airmen serving overseas.

“It's a legendary unit, a segregated unit that did heroic things in World War II,” McKeague said.

2nd Lt. Fred Brewer was one of 27 Tuskegee Airmen previously thought missing. The 23-year-old was the second from the unit identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

The remains of 2nd Lt. Fred Brewer, who was reportedly missing over Italy, have been positively identified. Brewer was recently given a proper funeral in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency/American Air Museum)

In October 1944, Brewer had taken off from Ramitelli Air Base in Italy along with 57 other fighters assigned to escort bombers to Regensburg, Germany. Brewer had been trying to climb above thick cloud cover when his engine stalled. It was believed to have crashed near Moggio Udinese, Italy. The story of what happened after the crash would not emerge until more than seventy years later.

'It happened almost by chance. It happened because an Italian villager in the 1940s took the remains of his plane and built a memorial that one of our historians linked to a series of remains moved from a German cemetery to an Italian cemetery, and eventually to an American one cemetery, where we exhumed the unknown remains of Lt. Brewer,” McKeague said.

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In December, Brewer was given a proper funeral and buried in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“These are cases that couldn't be solved after the wars. And so we are here with our historians, our scientists, searching, finding and hopefully identifying,” McKeague said.

The Moggese Historical Photo Archive in Italy says a ceremony for Brewer will take place in October near the Italian town where he died.

“It's our ability to use historical references and explore scientific technologies to hopefully put a name and a face to a set of remains and return them to their families,” McKeague said.

Army Cpl. Luther story

A funeral was held last Memorial Day for Korean Medal of Honor recipient Army Cpl. Luther Story after the agency identified his remains. In late 1950, at just 19 years old, Story gave his life defending against enemy soldiers so that his comrades could escape.

shared photo of Luther Story portrait, funeral

Luther Story, who gave his life defending against enemy soldiers so his comrades could escape, was given a proper funeral last Memorial Day. (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency/DVIDS)

“During the withdrawal the company was attacked by such superior forces that it was forced to deploy in a rice field,” reads the inscription on Story's Medal of Honor. 'Realizing that his wounds would hinder his comrades, he refused to withdraw to the next position, but remained behind to cover the company's withdrawal. When last seen he was firing all possible weapons and repelling another hostile attack.”

Story was only 16 years old when he enlisted in the army; he convinced his mother to forge his paperwork.

“At 19 years old, he takes that courage, that heroic action, that allows his unit to escape to safety,” McKeague said.

Story was born in Georgia to sharecroppers who worked on several farms in the center of the state. One of the farms where they worked belonged to former President Carter's father.

AMERICAN HEROES FROM THE Second World War ADOPTED IN PROJECT 'FACES OF MARGRATEN' BY 'THANKFUL' NETHERLANDS

Carter had begun hospice care when Story was identified in April 2023 and told that Story would return to the US.

“When he was told Luther Story was coming home. He just got the biggest smile and said, 'I remember that young man,'” McKeague said.

Active wars make it difficult to immediately identify the fallen. As conflict diminishes, researchers must consider environmental factors and foreign governments.

“Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia pose major challenges. The acidic soil degrades remains, nearly destroying them, and often all our teams find are teeth,” said McKeague.

AMERICAN HEROES FROM THE Second World War ADOPTED IN PROJECT 'FACES OF MARGRATEN' BY 'THANKFUL' NETHERLANDS

Air Force Col. Ernest De Soto

Air Force Col. Ernest De Soto, 37, flew an F-4D Phantom II during the Vietnam War.

Ernest De Soto

Air Force Col. Ernest De Soto was finally tracked down in March 2023 after his plane went missing during the Vietnam War. (Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund/DVIDS)

“He was born in San Francisco. He was a phenomenal athlete, had a partial scholarship to Stanford. His parents couldn't afford Stanford, so he enlisted in the Air Force,” McKeague said. “[He] qualifies for pilot training, becomes a fighter pilot and finds himself in Vietnam.”

He was last seen in 1969. His plane went missing while returning from a canceled strike mission near Quang Nam province. His unit's lead aircraft noticed that De Soto was not in sight and immediately began an aerial search without success. Teams were unable to search the ground due to the ongoing fighting.

In 1995, a Joint Field Activity team located the crash site in Giang District. Investigations at the site continued until 2020. After a recovery mission and further DNA testing, De Soto was finally accounted for in March 2023.

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“In the case of Col. De Soto, we had to continue to send teams to investigate or excavate the site,” McKeague said. “Especially because these aircraft losses often disappear from the radar, no one knows the last known location. And so in some cases it is almost a gamble.”

There are still 72,000 soldiers missing from World War II, 7,500 from Korea and 1,500 from Vietnam. Of those 81,000, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency believes 38,000 can be recovered.

“Everyone has a unique story,” McKeague said. “Whether it's Lt. Brewer or Cpl. Story is, or in the case of Colonel De Soto.'

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