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Phenom behind ‘Missing Marines’ helps identify missing WWII US Marines

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks during the National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2018. The day is observed every year on the third Friday in September and honors those who were prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
December 11, 2018

The X-files are a real thing, but they have nothing to do with science fiction.

A military X-file is a record of a missing deceased U.S. service member. There are currently thousands of service members who are assumed dead but have not yet been identified and confirmed because their bodies were never recovered.

Geoff Roecker is a records searcher and keeper of history, in such that he goes on hunts, following paper trails and clues or potential leads, to identify missing U.S. service members. He does this all in his free time, and for free; he works full-time for an ad agency in Midtown, Manhattan.

He started Missing Marines in order to help find and identify such service members, starting with Marines.

While he did not serve in the military, he has a Marine ancestor who ultimately led him on this journey, Roecker recently told American Military News.

Letters written by his ancestor who served and was killed in World War II, Lt. Philip Emerson Wood Jr., were given to him as a graduation present; he quickly became immersed in them and very interested in history.

While reading the letters, Roecker realized there was a Sergeant referenced in the letters who had never been accounted for – even though Roecker knew he had been killed.

“That got me started into figuring out how can I figure out what happened to the Sergeant. I wound up learning so much about him,” Roecker recently told American Military News. “I was fascinated by different aspects of his life. He was only 22 when he died. He did a lot of living.”

That research project got Roecker to realize there were many, many other service members who were considered missing.

“They don’t really have an end to their story the way someone confirmed killed and buried does. It’s a mystery. It’s a big question for their families, as well,” he explained.

So, he decided to start with the branch of the military that has a more manageable list – the Marines, which at the time had more than 3,000 names of those who were not confirmed killed. Now that list is at about 2,900.

The official lists for the Army and Navy are thousands more, Roecker said.

Missing Marines was launched on Dec. 7, 2011 – the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

Roecker points out that he doesn’t work in a vacuum – he works with others, most recently partnering with the nonprofit group History Flight.

“These cases are historical mysteries to solve. These are the people you do this for, the families and survivors,” Roecker said. “Someone asked me, what’s the point of trying to bring back these bones. The families really haven’t gotten closure.”

“At the end of the day, you can’t change that they’re dead, but you can change how their story ends,” he added.