By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 26, 2006 – Eighty-eight years after being killed in action along the not-so-quiet Western Front of World War I, Army Pvt. Francis Lupo of Cincinnati was buried today with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Lupo is the first U.S. servicemember classified as missing in action from World War I to be identified.
“Based on our search of the records, this appears to be the first (WWI soldier) ever that was missing in action, found and returned home,” said Larry Greer, spokesman for the Pentagon’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, which leads the national effort to account for personnel missing as the result of hostile action. “No one would have ever thought that he could have possibly been found, but he was found.”
Lupo’s casket was carried by horse-drawn caisson through the cemetery today before receiving a 21-gun salute. Lupo’s next-of-kin, Rachel Kleisinger, 73, was presented with an American flag during the burial ceremony. Kleisinger is Lupo’s niece. She was born to Lupo’s youngest sister 15 years after the end of WWI.
Several French military officers were also in attendance.
Lupo, the son of Sicilian immigrants, was 23 years old when he was killed in July 1918 while participated in the combined French-American attack on the Germans near Soissons, France, in what came to be known as the Second Battle of the Marne. Lupo was buried in a shallow grave alongside another American soldier. Lupo was a member of Company E, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.
In 2003, while conducting a survey in preparation for a construction project, a French archaeological team discovered human remains and other items a short distance from Soissons. Among the items recovered were a military boot fragment and a wallet bearing Lupo’s name, DoD officials said.
The French handed over the remains and personal effects to U.S. officials in 2004. They were then brought to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, to begin the analysis and official identification process.
“It’s our mission at JPAC to identify all those missing from our nation’s past wars,” Troy Kitch, JPAC deputy director of public affairs, said.
The command was activated Oct. 1, 2003, created from the merger of the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory and the Joint Task Force Full Accounting. The laboratory portion of JPAC, referred to as the Central Identification Laboratory, is the largest forensic anthropology laboratory in the world, officials said.
Kitch explained that the command uses several methods to positively identify people. They look at material evidence, such as the Lupo’s wallet, as well as anthropological evidence found in bones, to identify basic traits like height, sex and age.
“We look at mitochondrial DNA, which will tell us if that person is related to other people in a family line,” Kitch said. “We take a sample of DNA from the remains, and we try to match that up with a family reference sample of someone we think is a family member of the person.”
They also use historical evidence to demonstrate that the person being identified “was in that area at that time in that point in history,” Kitch said. “We also look at dental,” he added.
Teeth are often the best way to identify remains because they are durable, unique to each person, and may contain surviving mitochondria DNA, the JPAC Web site states.
On average, JPAC identifies about six missing-in-action servicemembers each month. To date, the U.S. government has identified about 1,300 people.
“As of the end of last year, we had identified about 840 people from Southeast Asia (Vietnam-era), about 50 or so from the Korean War, and about 360 from World War II, and around 16 from the Cold War,” Kitch said.
Forty-nine Americans were listed as prisoners of war or missing in action during the 1991 Gulf War. DoD has now accounted for 48 of those 49. Only one American from Operation Desert Storm, Navy Capt. Michael “Scott” Speicher, remains unaccounted for. In addition, Army Sgt. Matt Maupin, who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, has been missing in action in Iraq since April 2004.
World War I, which lasted from August 1914 to November 1918, involved many European countries, the United States and other nations throughout the world. More than 10 million people were killed and more than 20 million wounded during the war. The United States initially remained neutral, but finally entered the war in 1917 on the side of the Allied powers.
During the course of the war, the United States lost 116,000 troops to combat or illness. According to a recent Washington Post article, about 4,500 of those killed are unaccounted for. The other soldier buried with Lupo is among them.
Only about 12 U.S. WWI veterans are still alive.
Greer stressed that even though the recovery and identification process may take years to complete, the U.S. is committed to identifying all of its missing troops. Lupo’s story is a case in point, he said.
“I think it shows for those who wear the uniform, that this nation is committed to bringing them home even if it takes 60, 70, 80 years,” he said. “He (Lupo) was brought back and identified by our scientists and now returned to his family here on this hallowed ground at Arlington cemetery.”