WASHINGTON (WATE) — An East Tennessee soldier who died as a prisoner of war during World War II is returning stateside after decades of being interred as an Unknown in the Philippines. His remains were analyzed and positively accounted for in November 2021, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA.
Army Tech. Sgt. Ross H. Thompson, 50, of Maryville, Tenn. was a member of the Finance Department, U.S. Army Forces Far East or USAFE in late 1941, when Japanese forces invaded the Philippine Islands in December. Intense fighting continued until the surrender of the Bataan peninsula on April 9, 1942, and of Corregidor Island on May 6, 1942.
The DPAA says thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members were captured and interned at POW camps at the time, with Thompson among those reported captured when USAFE forces in Bataan surrendered to the Japanese.
The prisoners were subjected to the 65-mile Bataan Death March and then held at the Cabanatuan POW camp, according to the DPAA., and more than 2,500 POWs died in the camp during the war. According to prison camp and other historical records, Thompson died Dec. 10, 1942, and was buried along with other deceased prisoners in the local Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery, in Common Grave 917.
After the war ended, personnel from the American Graves Registration Service or AGRS exhumed those buried at the Cabanatuan cemetery and relocated the remains to a temporary U.S. military mausoleum near Manila.
Then, in 1947, the AGRS examined the remains in an attempt to identify them, the DPAA said, and five of the sets of remains from Common Grave 917 were identified; however, the rest which included those of Thompson were declared unidentifiable. The unidentified remains were buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial or MACM in February 1950 as Unknowns.
Although interred as an Unknown in Manila, the DPAA says Thompson’s grave was meticulously cared for over the past 70 years by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
In March 2018, the remains associated with Common Grave 917 were disinterred and sent to the DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis.
To identify Thompson’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental, anthropological, and isotope analysis as well as circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
While Tech. Sgt. Thompson was accounted for in November 2021, the DPAA says his family only recently received their full briefing on his identification, which is why the information about his now-accounted for remains was shared June 16, 2022. Thompson will be buried in Kent, Wash. The date is not yet determined.