Families of soldiers find hope in recovery missions, DNA matches - WSMV Channel 4

Families of MIA soldiers find hope in recovery missions, DNA matches

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HOPKINSVILLE, KY (WSMV) -

Earlier this year, we reported the story of Steve Woods, whose father Staff Sgt. Lawrence Woods went missing in action during the Vietnam War. An overwhelming moment for the family, Staff Sgt. Woods' remains were finally recovered in Cambodia this year after nearly 50 years.

There are still tens of thousands of families waiting for the day they can say goodbye to their soldier who disappeared during a past war.

Cindy Stonebraker of Hopkinsville has made a discovery that's changed her life. Two years ago, she found reel-to-reel tapes in her mother's attic with the voice of her father, Lt. Col. Kenneth Stonebraker.

"Hi Cindy, how are you?" asked Lt. Col. Stonebraker in a recording. "I just got the tape where you talked about your birthday party. You save me a cupcake? You put it in the freezer? Well, I'll have to eat that when I come home for Christmas, huh?"

"He sent this tape from the mission he did not return from," said Cindy Stonebraker. "When you close your eyes and you listen to it, you are listening to a daddy talking to his little girl. He was on a reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam on Oct. 28, 1968. He didn't return from that mission. Half of my history, I don't have. Half of who I am, I don't know."

Lt. Col. Stonebraker is one of the more than 1,600 considered missing in action from the Vietnam War. More than 7,000 are missing in action from the Korean War, 100 from the Cold War and more than 83,000 from World War II.

Speaking from Hickham Air Force Base in Hawaii, Dr. John Byrd is with the Joint Prisoners of War Missing in Action Accounting Command.

"Cold cases are the only thing that we do at JPAC," said Byrd. "Our most recent cases are around 40 years old. We're able to process over 700 cases on any given day, and we identify typically between 70 and 100 people a year."

JPAC is 500 military members and civilians still doing searches and matching DNA for men and women missing in action from past wars. With relationships improving with foreign governments, crews are able to go on 60-day recovery missions searching for skeletal and dental remains of American soldiers.

"As we're conducting excavations, actual recoveries, we might hire up to a hundred locals to assist our team in the recovery operations," said Johnie E. Webb of JPAC.

The findings are all brought back to the largest forensic anthropology lab in the world, a process that's so far identified 1,878 soldiers previously missing in action.

It's work that gives hope to people like Cindy Stonebraker, who after 45 long years, only wish for a true goodbye.

"I love you Cindy," said Lt. Col. Stonebraker in a recording. "Be a good girl. I know you're a good girl. Here's a big kiss, OK?

"He was taking his time to be sure his little girl loved her," said Cindy Stonebraker. "I'm very proud. He's my hero."

If you're a family member of a soldier missing in action, you can help JPAC by sending them a swab of your mouth as a DNA reference. You can reach JPAC at their website, http://www.jpac.pacom.mil/.

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