Over the past year, the remains of 80 soldiers from as far back as World War I have been identified, ending their designation by the government as "missing in action."
"While that is significant progress, we have a long way to go," Army Brig. Gen. Michael Flowers said Monday to the American Legion's foreign relations committee in Salt Lake City.
Flowers runs the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which has an annual budget of about $47 million and a staff of about 450. The command's job is to follow leads on the whereabouts of missing soldiers, try to find and identify them, and bring home their remains for an official military funeral.
Flowers estimated that about 88,000 soldiers from World War II to the present are still missing. About half are recoverable or identifiable, he said at the Legion's 88th annual national convention at the Salt Palace.
Forty-two of the soldiers recovered over the past year served during World War II.
JPAC numbers show there are still 78,000 soldiers missing from World War II; 8,100 from the Korean War; 120 from the Cold War and one from the Gulf War.
Right now the command has teams in Germany, Austria, South Korea, Alaska and Hawaii. In October, crews are headed back to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia to look for remains.
Flowers said JPAC workers know where many bodies are likely to be found, but getting into certain parts of Vietnam, for example, is forbidden by government officials.Comment on this story
"We can't do it without their cooperation," Flowers said. "There are a lot of restricted sites throughout that country."
The remains of as many as 900 of 1,800 missing soldiers in Vietnam could still be recovered, according to the JPAC's figures.As the JPAC plans to expand its home base in Hawaii and tackle a backlog of investigations, Flowers is calling on extended family members of missing soldiers for help by providing DNA samples from themselves. About 1,500 samples are currently needed for help in ongoing investigations.