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Timewatch: The unknown soldiers

Updated Wednesday 18th January 2006

The role of America in the First World War unfolds alongside the story of the unknown soldiers.

World War One cemetary Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission In the summer of 2003 two sets of remains were found in a field just outside the town of Soissons in Northern France. They were uncovered by a French archaeologist during a routine land survey. From personal effects found with the remains it was presumed that they were the remains of American soldiers who had fought during World War I.

The remains were turned to over to a unique unit of the American military, the Joint Prisoner of War / Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC). From their base in Hawaii, their mission is to search for, identify and bring home all missing American servicemen from all previous conflicts. There are still 4,800 missing from World War I, 78,000 missing from World War II, 120 missing from the Cold War, 8,100 missing from the Korean War and 1,800 missing from the Vietnam War.

The remains were brought to JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii – one of the world’s leading forensic anthropology labs – for scientific analyses. One of the key personal items included with the remains was a wallet. After almost 90 years in the ground it had been too fragile for archaeological examination. However, when scrutinised by JPAC using special equipment, it revealed a name – Francis Lupo.

With the unexpected breakthrough of a name to go on, JPAC’s historians began their investigation. Who was Francis Lupo? Did he serve with the American Army during World War I? If so, did he ever come home?

Near to the town of Chateau-Thierry, just outside Soissons, is a monument known as the Tablets of the Missing. This contains the names of all American servicemen who fought in the region during World War I, but never returned from battle. When JPAC’s historians checked the names on this monument, Private Francis Lupo’s name was there. It was also discovered that he had been a member of the First Division’s 18th Infantry Regiment, and was reported as missing on July 21st 1918. This date was significant, as it fell during one of the most crucial battles involving American troops during World War I – the Second Battle of the Marne. But which of the two sets of remains in JPAC’s lab – if any – is Francis Lupo?

The film follows the JPAC team as they attempt to positively identify the remains, and name the unknown soldiers. The programme also tells the story of American involvement in the Great War, both through documentary interviews and dramatised extracts from US First Infantry Division memoirs.

 

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