Bud’s story is typical of those who died in the Cabanatuan POW camp after surviving the Bataan Death March. He was the first of more than 300 Unknowns to be returned to his family. Why is the Department of Defense dragging their feet on returning all...
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Bud’s story is typical of those who died in the Cabanatuan POW camp after surviving the Bataan Death March. He was the first of more than 300 Unknowns to be returned to his family. Why is the Department of Defense dragging their feet on returning all of them?
This is an update of the first post ever published on BataanMissing.com. Much has changed since Bud was disinterred from his grave as an Unknown in Manila in 2014. More than 300 other families of MIA’s have received answers to their decades old question concerning the fate of their loved one.
The question now is not what happened to these men, rather, why have they not all been returned home? Its not a pretty story and will leave many families wondering who is actually buried in their family plot.
Private Arthur H. “Bud” Kelder was stationed at the Sternberg General Hospital in Manila at the outbreak of World War II. Upon the outbreak of war, he was consolidated in to General Hospital #2 located on the Bataan Peninsula. After the April 9, 1942 capitulation of the American forces in the Philippines, he endured the Bataan Death March, Camp O’Donnell and, ultimately, Cabanatuan Camp #1 where he died of malnutrition and diphtheria on November 19, 1942. Grave A-12-195 in the Manila American Cemetery where Bud Kelder was buried as an UnknownBud’s remains, and those of thirteen other men who died on the same day, were buried in the camp cemetery grave number 717. After the American victory over Japan in 1945 the cemetery was opened and the remains relocated to temporary cemetery Manila #2. By comparison of dental records, the American Army was able to identify the remains of Harvey A. Nichols, Juan E. Gutierrez, Lawrence Hanscom, Daniel C. Bain. Unfortunately, the Army managed to ship the wrong remains to these families. All four of these men were buried in the U.S. by their families in the belief that they had received the remains of their family member.The other ten men, Arthur H. Kelder, Fredrick G. Collins, George G. Simmons, Evans E. Overbey, George S. York, Kovach, John Harold S. Hirschi, Lloyd J. Lobdell, John W. Ruark, and Charles M. Waid, were buried as Unknowns in the Manila American Cemetery operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission. In 2009, the family of Bud Kelder began researching his life and obtained from the U.S. Army the records of his death. These records indicated that his remains had been buried and recovered from the Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery and were among ten specific sets of remains not identified. It was quickly apparent that Bud had never been an Unknown. The Army knew all along where he and the other MIA’s were. They just never told the families the circumstances of their deaths or that there was any problem identifying the remains. Instead, the families of the MIA’s were told that their remains were “non-recoverable.” Non-recoverable meant one thing to the families and something entirely different to the Army.Other records necessary to identify the remains of Bud Kelder were requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The Department of Defense refused to provide these records and the Kelder family brought a lawsuit in Federal Court. The records were ultimately received in 2012 along with thousands of other records of WWII unidentified remains.The family’s lawsuit actually obtained ALL of the records of World War II unidentified remains. Families of WWII MIA’s are invited to request copies of these records.The primary reason the remains of the ten men in grave 717 were not identified was due to the lack of military dental records. However, Bud Kelder’s older Brother, Herman Kelder, had been a dentist and family records indicated that he had placed distinctive gold inlays in his Brother’s teeth. Only one of the ten remains recovered from grave 717 had any gold dental work shown in their files (although the documents showed that the teeth with gold inlays had disappeared from the remains while in the custody of the U.S. Army Graves Registration unit). Unidentified remains X-816 (Manila #2) were obviously the remains of Bud Kelder.The disappearance of gold or silver dental work was just one example of how badly the military had mismanaged the recovery of the dead – and another reason for them to sweep things under the rug.The evidence that X-816 was the remains of Bud Kelder was overwhelming and far exceeded the standard used by the Army in identifying the other remains. Most likely because current government officials were aware many remains had been shipped to the wrong families for burial, the U.S. Department of Defense, after much buck passing and excuses, refused to return the X-816 remains to the Kelder family. The Kelder family was forced to file a second lawsuit in Federal Court and in 2014 the U.S. Government, faced with a court order, finally consented to exhumation of the ten Unknowns from Cabanatuan Grave 717. How so many “identified” remains were shipped to the wrong families for burial in the States is a story for another blog post. It wasn’t that everything that could go wrong, did. Rather, anything they could screw up through incompetence and mismanagement, they did.Ten anatomically complete sets of remains were recovered – after nearly five years of litigation in Federal Court. The government had argued that even though the evidence was overwhelming, only the government had the authority to identify the remains. Therefore, the families had no right to demand the return of the remains.
2,729 Americans were buried in two cemeteries at Cabanatuan Camps #1 and #3 between June 3, 1942 and October 28, 1944. 1,756 of them were identified and buried as directed by their families, either in the States or an overseas military cemetery. 973 are still listed as Unknowns, most buried in the Manila American Cemetery and a few in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (The Punchbowl).The Unknowns from Cabanatuan grave 717 head home on a U.S. Air Force C17 – August 2015
The U.S. Air Force didn’t exist when these men gave their lives for their country.Nearly five months after Bud’s remains were disinterred, the Department of Defense, using outdated mitochondrial DNA identification techniques, returned the skull and three long bones to the Kelder family. These remains were buried next to his parents as they had wished.Bud Kelder was the first World War II Unknown returned to his family in modern times. In an effort to dispose of the still pending litigation, a few of Bud’s bones were quickly – after “only” five months – identified. A few token bones from each of the others were slowly returned to their families for burial.While, at this writing, more than five years after they were exhumed, at least token portions of most of the fourteen men of Grave 717 have been identified. However, they have led the way for more than 300 additional Unknowns to be disinterred. They have also shown some of the U.S. Government’s dirty little secrets.
For more information on Bud Kelder’s story, you are invited to visit these linked stories:
If a member of your family is missing from World War II, you are invited to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for copies of their burial records and information about how they can be identified or email@example.com