The Empty Tomb

Who does not know someone, or some family, that hasn’t lost someone in the wars fought by our Great American Heroes? Many of our servicemen and women returned home from the conflicts, but for a tremendous number of families, their loved one came home in a casket, and some who were lost and went missing did not ever come home at all. These families in particular were deprived of the ability to honor, respect, say goodbye, and bury their lost flesh and blood. It was during the American Civil War, when Clara Barton initiated the great effort of the accounting of the dead through the founding of the American Red Cross. Each and every person that was lost had a mother and father, some had brothers and sisters, some had no siblings and were only children, and even a few had spouses or children of their own, who loved them deeply and needed to know what happened to their loved one. It is because of this great loss that we have our blessed lives and FREEDOM today.

Throughout history, I can think of two very famous tombs – the Tomb of the Unknowns, and The Empty Tomb that was left empty when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Both of these represent a great loss, but each in turn resulted in a great gain for others. There is no liberation without the shedding of blood. The burial of Jesus Christ in the tomb set a stage for our practice of Christian Burial. It is a disposition of in-tact remains, which is purposed for the return of Christ to gather and rise up again and go with Him. Many, although lost through much suffering and heroic tragedy, were buried in their FAMILY plots. Throughout America, however, there are hundreds of empty tombs in our FAMILY cemeteries, resting in between mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, waiting for those that were not recovered. For the Gold Star Parents, it is too late. The plots, however, were purchased and reserved in good FAITH that one day, their lost prodigies would be able to be brought home to rest. For the Gold Star Brothers and Sisters of World War II, as of 2012, the time is waning. These empty tombs across America sit and wait, not so well-known or widely recognized.

After World War II, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), initiated a tremendous undertaking of gathering up the remains of our soldiers in the local European cemeteries, and spent the modern-day equivalent of billions of dollars to retrieve our War Dead, and to either bury them in the overseas cemeteries that were being constructed, or bring them home on the nine dedicated Victory Ships according to their families’ wishes. For the heroes that were lost and missing in the China-Burma-India Theatre of Operations, high up in the mountains at extreme altitudes and conditions, they remain. In the official military deceased personnel files, the word forgotten was swept under the rug and replaced with the word ‘non-recoverable’. Because of this, the U.S. Government, and thus, the ABMC and CWGC never initiated an active effort to recover these lost sons of mothers and fathers in the far East. They were indeed forgotten in the literal sense of the word.

For those veterans who returned home, it was a time to forget the horrors of war and move on with a life that a great number of their buddies and pals, who they witnessed die in front of them, never would have the chance to do. If we fast forward through several other wars, the Korean Conflict, the quagmire of Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, Kosovo, the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the losses become statistically less, but every war has its soldiers that either return dead or remain missing. Those who survive, live with the horror and depth of loss.

For a modern-day adventure enthusiast, the high mountains that border India and China might seem a nice and welcome challenge. Clayton Kuhles of MIA Recoveries, Inc. (Prescott, Arizona), began a hike with a small step on a spur-of-the-moment side trip out of curiosity, when he heard a rumor that there was an airplane crash located on a mountainside. This first small step into the rugged terrain turned into a journey that would take him on a life path of miraculous revelation and discovery. Along with the aircraft wreckage that was found, a unique identifier that included a serial number was indicated, translating into which plane it was, and who was on board at the time. Records that were once considered Classified have now been made public, outlining each loss and each person along with their unique service number. A book was written by Chick Marrs Quinn, The Aluminum Trail, which lists each and every loss in these rugged mountains. With regards to his first discovery experience, Clayton Kuhles recalls:

“My first aircraft discovery was made in 2002, on an exceptionally remote section of the Burma-India border, just south of Tibet. That aircraft was identified as C-47A #42-23734, a.k.a. CNAC #77. I was baffled how and why a US aircraft could have crashed in such a remote place, or why it was even flying in that area in the first place. My questions were quickly answered by the Assistant Defense Attaché at the US Embassy in Rangoon, a knowledgeable history buff named Maj. James McAndrew. It was only then that I realized the significance and implications of the aircraft wreckage I had just discovered. The details are covered in my Expedition Notes attached to the Crashed Aircraft Site Report for C-87 #41-23696 (see website for my report filed on 19 Oct 2003). When Maj. McAndrew told me how many US aircraft and crewmembers literally disappeared on the Hump route, and that nobody ever went back to look for them after the war ended, I was appalled and aghast. When I started receiving phone calls and letters from Hump veterans asking me to find their long-missing buddies, and then personally meeting some Hump veterans at their reunions, I decided I had to take decisive action to find these guys, even when the US government had long ago declared them as ‘non-recoverable’. As a mountaineer, professional adventurer and patriot, I’ve committed myself to recovering as many of these American heroes as I possibly can. I can’t think of a more worthy project to engage myself in, or one that I’m more ideally suited for.”


 –Clayton Kuhles – Discovery of C-47A #42-23734 a.k.a. CNAC #77

This one man is now responsible for locating twenty-two U.S. airplane crash sites that were lost over ‘The Hump’ – a term that describes the large mountain range over which manpower, supplies, equipment, fuel, and cargo were flown in order to facilitate the war effort. Those sites found account for 193 U.S. Airmen who were lost. With these important discoveries, the theory of these men being ‘non-recoverable’ tumbled off the mountain in a landslide, because now, those who once were LOST are now being FOUND. This modern-day explorer has come down from the mountain to spread the GOOD NEWS to these Gold Star Families, that their loved ones’ remains have been located.

The work is not done. Even though all of the sites have been reported to the Joint Prisoner of War Accounting Command (JPAC) politics of the Indian and Myanmar (formerly Burma) countries and inter-governmental relationships with the U.S. remain fragile, and several attempts to move JPAC teams in for recovery have been unsuccessful and virtually non-existent or hampered. Windows of appropriate weather opportunities to send in recovery teams for archaeological excavation are also short and limited each year. So the men who have been FOUND still remain and the TOMBS in the FAMILY plots are still EMPTY.

Additionally, further expedition efforts have been smothered by the lack of sufficient funding. Previous expeditions were completely self-funded by Clayton Kuhles, and with no financial assistance from the U.S. Government. MIA Recoveries, Inc. is a qualified 501 (c) (3) charitable organization and all donations are tax-deductible. This modern-day heroic effort of sacrifice and humanity is in need of financial support in order to keep going, because our government is doing nothing for those lost over ‘The Hump’. All of the LOST are recoverable and can be FOUND. It is our responsibility as FREE, good, and FAITHFUL Americans to see this effort through. The words NEVER FORGET and REMEMBRANCE must be met with RECOVERY and RESPONSIBILITY. It is our duty to account for and return our War Dead to the Homeland and to the families for a proper, appropriate, honorable military and Judeo-Christian burial.

The details of this responsibility remind me of the words given to us by divine inspiration – ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend’ -John 15:13. This verse is applicable to our veterans and to those who were lost, but it also applies to us as Christians as our responsibility to look after our brothers and sisters. We must find, retrieve, identify, and bring them home.

The Empty Tomb remains.

For additional information, please visit – the good efforts cannot continue at this time unless additional funding is acquired. We will be highlighting the stories of these losses and also of triumph over tragedy in all service area arenas. –Jana Churchwell, 11 October 2012

About Jana Churchwell

Locating Gold Star Families - It's What I Do~
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