If military pathologists developing a system of “DNA dog tags” reach their goal, no more unknown soldiers ever will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The system was used to identify some of the 376 Americans killed in the Gulf War, in one case by matching a dead soldier’s DNA with whisker dust in an electric shaver he had left at home.
In the past, use of fingerprints, dental records and small metal necklace plates called dog tags identified most soldiers killed in battle, but not all.
As a result, war has provided unknown soldiers for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the last killed in Vietnam, lying alongside soldiers from World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
Now, military pathologists are developing the system of using deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the building block of genes, to identify body fragments.
“We would hope we would be able to prevent another body being buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” said Maj. Victor Weedn, the Army pathologist in charge of the project.
The only bodies pathologists could not identify would be those they could not reach, perhaps troops in a combat plane lost in deep waters at sea, he said.
The DNA dog tag system will rely on samples of all U.S. military men and women’s blood in a storage bank. The stored DNA would be matched with DNA from a body fragment on the battlefield.
At casualty stations, fingerprints, dental records and the familiar metal dog tags would still be used in most cases.
Then the more difficult and expensive DNA matching would be employed to identify the still unidentifiable.
All but three of the Americans killed in the Gulf War were identified until a few weeks ago. The three have since been identified.