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Utah families hope the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will help them locate lost loved ones

Posted at 6:26 PM, Apr 27, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY -- Hundreds of families met with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) on Saturday to receive updates on the search for their loved ones. There are still hundreds of service members unaccounted for from Utah. Most are presumed dead.

As scientists work on trying to identify everyone they can, family members received one-on-one updates on their case. Some gave DNA swabs, praying for an eventual match in the DPAA database.

“It’s been a long time. I have no idea what I missed,” cried William Golden Reeves, searching for his brother, 1st Lt. Thiel M. Reeves. “To get him home would mean a lot.”

Melvin Leroy Pethel, who said he has no idea how his brother Sgt. David J. Pethel may have died in North Korea, told FOX 13 he was encouraged with the way President Trump and Kim Jong Un have started the process of returning service members home.

The United States has received 55 boxes, likely containing the remains of more than 100 service members, since the president’s historic summit with the North Korean leader. Scientists said it could take months, or potentially years, before all of those service members are identified.

“I miss him very much. I’d go to bed and I’d dream about him all the time,” Melvin Pethel said. “I remember his first time he came home, he was telling me how he enjoyed it. That was the last time I ever saw him… I was crying for a long time after he died.”

Others said they know exactly how their loved one died, but have nothing but an empty grave to show for it.

“He was in the United States Marine Corps. He joined at 17, but my dad made him wait until 18 before he let him join,” said Ray Burrows, looking for the remains of his older brother, Merrill G. Burrows. “We sure would like to have him. I hope they do some recovery when I’m still here, but being 87 you never know.”

“(Thiel) got his pilot’s license when he was 15 years old,” said William Golden Reeves. “They were supposed to come home, and when he landed on the ground, they told him they had extended him another five more missions. He was on his 41st mission when he got shot down.”

Dr. Timothy McMahon, director of Department of Defense DNA Operations, said he was optimistic his mission to identify every service member will be completed.

“This is an extremely noble mission,” McMahon said. “It may take time, but we will get an answer… I do think the time will come when we can make as many of the identifications as possible.”

If you were not able to make it to the event, family members are encouraged to contact casualty officers to receive the latest information about the work being done on their individual losses. Family members are also encouraged to volunteer a DNA sample if can set up an appointment or volunteer a buccal swab DNA sample to cross reference with the DPAA databse.

For more information on how to get involved, please visit