While I was writing about two
Civil War ancestors this week, I wondered how many of those who fought in that
war not only never came home but were actually unknown. A little research came
up with the information that 25% of the 622,000 known dead were never
identified. Neither side was prepared for the horrors of the battlefield,
particularly the aftermath. Rotting corpses and hastily-dug mass graves appear
to be the method of coping.
Though dog tags didn’t become
mandatory until 1913, some Civil War soldiers made wooden tags for themselves
and wore them fastened on thongs around their necks. Harper’s Weekly touted
gold or silver pins inscribed with names and units. (The same article puts the
percentage of unidentified Civil War dead at a whopping 42% instead of 25%. See
History of the Dog Tag.)
Click through to The
Great Unknownsfor more statistics on the unknowns of other
wars. The number steadily decreased until there were no unknowns for the Viet
Nam conflict and subsequent actions.
Even today we read the
occasional article about remains of WW II service members being recovered and
repatriated. In most cases, the only family remaining are younger nieces and
nephews or grandchildren. In 1998, the remains of a Viet Nam soldier were disinterred
for DNA testing and identified. Lt. Michael J. Blassie had for a time rested in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.