• Last modified 5995 days ago (Dec. 28, 2007)
  • Return to Checkerboard

Finding MIAs is important endeavor

The Evansville Courier & Press carried a front-page story Nov. 12, entitled "Veteran tells of WWII aftermath." The article relates the experiences of a Don Singleton in gathering the bodies of U.S. soldiers killed in the war. It recalls memories of American soldiers loading the bodies of the dead into trucks near Schmidt, Germany. Dozens of bodies, German and American, lay there frozen throughout the Battle of the Bulge and were picked up in early February 1945, when the thaw began.

One sentence in the story needs to be corrected: "Much of the recovery was in northern France, site of the Battle of the Bulge." No part of the Battle of the Bulge was in France. It was entirely in Belgium and part of Luxembourg and that small area of Germany occupied by the Allies on Dec. 16, 1944, when the Battle of the Bulge began. It lasted through January 1945.

While Singleton's experience was with bodies recovered during and shortly after the war, it should be noted that many bodies of American soldiers killed in the Battle of the Bulge, heretofore known as "Missing in Action" (MIAs), have been recovered in very recent years, more than a half century after their deaths.

In September 1988, two young Belgian men, Jean-Louis Seel and Jean-Philippe Speder, searching the forests of the Belgian Ardennes, discovered the body of an American soldier, killed decades before in the Battle of the Bulge. The body was identified, his surviving next of kin notified, and given an appropriate burial.

Since then Speder and Seel have worked with veterans of the 99th Division in searching for other MIAs. They have found a number of those they were looking for based on information by surviving veterans who could identify where their comrades were killed. Forensic science and DNA have been used to identify the remains.

Jean-Philippe Speder and Jean-Louis Seel became known as the "diggers," and with other volunteer associates have located more than a dozen bodies, some in 2001 and 2003. Others remain to be found. They accept no compensation for their work, but the 99th Division Association pays their expenses to come to America to report on their findings at the annual 99th Division reunions. Their remarkably successful detective work is described in a book, "The Dead of Winter," by Bill Warnock (published by Penguin Group USA).

Last month, with my son and another veteran, J.R. McIlroy, wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, and his son, we revisited the Ardennes. With Seel and Speder as our guides, we were shown where many of those bodies were recovered. The work of the Diggers and the 99th Division MIA Project has assured marked burial places for those missing for so many years.

Philip B. Benefiel A/393

1308 17th St.

Lawrenceville IL 62439