The US military is leaving the missing behind

Private Bud Kelder went missing during World War II. Evidence suggests he's buried as an unknown soldier in Manila. Will the Pentagon ever move to identify him?

Tracing his genealogy online one night, John Eakin landed on a name that evoked an old family sorrow.

Arthur “Bud” Kelder, Eakin’s cousin, had died while a POW during World War II, but his body had never been found. Bud’s parents had sent handwritten letters to the Army for years, asking to have their youngest son’s body returned to them in Illinois.

“It is our hope that his remains may be sent here, for burial at home,” pleaded one.
 Image: Bud Kelder, far left, before WWII. John Eakin saw this picture of his distant cousin on the wall of his great aunt’s house when he was 15 and asked who he was. That was the first time he learned of Bud’s story - and the only time he saw his grandpa cry. (Courtesy of John Eakin)

#MIA Takeaways

1 There are roughly 45,000 Americans "missing in action" from World War II, Korea and Vietnam who are considered recoverable.

2 Despite spending roughly $100 million annually, the Pentagon identifies on average 72 people each year. At the current rate, it would take them more than 600 years to finish the job.

3 Outdated methods contribute to the Pentagon's slow pace — unlike most other modern efforts around the world, the military doesn't use DNA as the first and primary means of identifying the remains.

Six decades later, Eakin, a stubborn Texan who was himself a vet, resolved to find out exactly why Bud had never come home.

In the fall of 2009, Eakin reached out to family members and found that Bud’s older brother had kept a trove of historical documents laying out Bud’s saga: the telegram announcing he was a POW, newspaper clippings, letters sent between Bud and his parents.

Before the Japanese invaded the Philippines, Bud had worked as a dental assistant at the American hospital in Manila, a plum assignment in a tropical getaway. In late 1941, the Army private wrote to his parents about saving his paycheck to buy a custom-made sharkskin suit. It “really is a peach,” Bud wrote.

After war broke out in December 1941, Bud was among 12,000 American troops who were besieged by the Japanese for four months on the Bataan peninsula, just south of Manila.

“What I dream is there will be no more separations between us again and we’ll spend more time together,” he wrote to his parents in cursive two months later. “P.S. Mother! Don’t worry about me.”

The Americans surrendered on April 9, 1942. The Japanese made Bud a driver during the infamous five-day, 65-mile Bataan Death March. He eventually ended up at Cabanatuan, one of the largest POW camps for American troops.

When Eakin tried to figure out what happened next, he ran into an unexpected roadblock.

The Pentagon spends about $100 million a year to find men like Bud, following the ethos of “leave no man behind.” Yet it solves surprisingly few cases, hobbled by overlapping bureaucracy and a stubborn refusal to seize the full potential of modern forensic science. Last year, the military identified just 60 service members out of the about 83,000 Americans missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, around 45,000 of whom are considered recoverable.

At the center of the military’s effort is a little-known agency, the Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, or J-PAC, and its longtime scientific director, Tom Holland. He alone assesses whether the evidence J-PAC has assembled is sufficient to identify a set of remains: A body goes home only if he signs off.

Over Holland’s 19-year tenure, J-PAC has stuck with an outdated approach that relies primarily on historical and medical records even as others in the field have turned to DNA to quickly and reliably make identifications.

Though finding missing service members can be difficult — some were lost deep in Europe’s forests, others in Southeast Asia’s jungles — Holland’s approach has stymied efforts to identify MIAs even when the military already knows where they are. More than 9,400 service members are buried as “unknowns” in American cemeteries around the world. Holland's lab has rejected roughly nine out of every 10 requests to exhume such graves.

Holland’s cautious approach is animated by a fear of mistakes.

Millions of Dollars, Few ID's

This chart shows how many identifications are made each year by J-PAC, compared to the agency’s budget. Including the other agencies involved in finding remains of missing service members, the Pentagon has spent nearly $500 million over the past five years.















Budget (in millions)







Source: Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office

“Our credibility is only as good as our last misidentification,” he said in an interview. “It doesn't matter that I've identified 500 people correctly. If I misidentify one, that’s what going to be the focus. That’s what's going to be on the news. That is what is going to erode the credibility. That’s what I go home with every night.”

The top military official at J-PAC, Gen. Kelly McKeague, said he believed the standards for laboratory work to identify a veteran should be higher than the FBI lab’s standard for a death penalty case. With what J-PAC does, he said, there’s “a lot more at stake.”

In recent years, J-PAC and the other agencies responsible for the MIA program have come under intensifying scrutiny. In 2010, when Congress added World War II to J-PAC’s mission, it mandated at least 200 identifications overall a year by 2015 — a benchmark the agency has already said it will not meet. The problems, including those of DNA, go beyond J-PAC. Last month, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered a review of how the military manages the effort.

Time is running out. There are 35,000 missing who experts say are findable from WWII. But the MIA’s closest relatives are dying off — and often with them so are the chances for using DNA to finally identify their long-lost loved ones.

Image: John Eakin has spent years trying to force the government to act on the case of his cousin, Pvt. Arthur “Bud” Kelder, who died as a POW in WWII and whose body was never sent home. (Photo by Jennifer Whitney for ProPublica)

Working from a home he built by hand in Helotes, just north of San Antonio, the gray-haired, lanky Eakin began his search by requesting Bud’s records from the Army.

He got back a remarkable document. Despite horrid conditions, the Americans prisoners had left a road map to find Bud and others like him: the “Cabanatuan POW Camp Death Report.”

Image: The prisoners at the Cabanatuan POW camp where Bud was held by the Japanese had left a road map to find their fellow soldiers who died there. They updated a "Cabanatuan POW Death Report," logging the details of those who died every day. Despite the help it could provide, the military hasn’t used the report to help retrieve the remains of service members who died at the camp. (Courtesy of John Eakin)

Barely surviving on a little more than two cups of rice every day, the POWs had still managed to document the deaths of their comrades. It was a monumental task. Of the several thousand prisoners housed at the camp, only about 500 made it out.

Each day, the survivors dug a single unmarked grave to bury that day’s dead. And each day, the officers kept a meticulous ledger of the men who had died. However little that death roster meant in the prison camp, later, the POWs knew, it would be crucial to getting the fallen home.

The entry for Nov. 19, 1942, lists 14 men. Among them: Private Arthur “Bud” H. Kelder, dead at 4:35 p.m. The 26-year-old had succumbed to pellagra, a vitamin deficiency common among the starved prisoners.

Bud’s parents, unaware of his death for eight more months, kept writing him. On May 20, 1943, Bud’s father wrote, “Dear son, another week has gone and still no word from you. We hope you have a few letters on the way to us.”

Bud’s 34-page file had sat untouched by the government for nearly 60 years, a forgotten folder in a vast repository at the National Archives. Had anyone looked it over, they would have found what Eakin did: The military actually had a pretty good sense of where Bud was.

The files included not only a date for Bud's death, but also a specific grave for him. After the war, the Army had gone to the POW camp to dig up and identify the bodies of more than 2,700 men who died there. Using the Cabanatuan camp report and recollections of the survivors, the Army numbered the communal graves and matched them with the death list.Bud and 13 others had been in Grave 717.

Limited by the science of the time, the Army was able to identify and send home four men from that grave but not Bud. In the early 1950s, the remaining 10, along with more than 900 others who died at Cabanatuan, were reburied individually as unknowns in an American cemetery in Manila. White crosses marked their graves, bearing the words “Here Rests in Honored Glory A Comrade in Arms. Known but to God.”

To Eakin, it seemed obvious that Bud was among the 10 unidentified sets of remains from Grave 717 — a relatively small group of bones that the military could dig up and test against the DNA of family members. He tried to make it easier for the Pentagon by tracking down relatives of the men in the grave, so they could provide DNA for comparison. He even turned over an envelope Bud had licked.

Eakin said he thought identifying Bud would be "such a no-brainer.”

Reviewing details of the case later, Joshua Hyman, the head of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s DNA Sequencing Facility, described it as a “piece of cake.”

But no one in the military seemed to show much interest. Every month, Eakin called the Army, asking, “When are you going to go dig up these remains?”

Bud’s fate rested with Holland and J-PAC’s lab on a joint Navy-Air Force base in Honolulu.

With his beard, slightly ruffled appearance, and a penchant for storytelling, Holland has the air of a liberal arts professor.
Walking through the hallway outside his lab, he pointed proudly to displays of artifacts found with recovered remains: Tattered uniforms, faded, crinkled pictures and pineapple-shaped grenades.

Holland joined J-PAC in 1992 and has spent his entire scientific career there, becoming the lab's director in 1995. “The lab has been his life,” said Mark Leney, a former J-PAC anthropologist who worked with Holland for six years. “He has an enormous sense of ownership of it.”

Though J-PAC is a military command, the generals who rotate in and out for temporary assignments take no role in the scientific decisions, leaving them to Holland. Almost a dozen current and former staffers described Holland as someone who bridles at being challenged and fiercely protects his fiefdom.

“Expressing dissent was clearly not appreciated and frowned on,” said Leney, who now teaches at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Leney said he and another anthropologist wrote Holland a memo in 2002 about problems with procedures and standards at the lab. They asked for guidance and clarification. “Here is my guidance:Don’t ever write a memo like this again unless it is stapled to your resignation,” Holland wrote back.

J-PAC currently has about 500 employees, including historians and military logisticians to coordinate overseas digs, but it’s work in the lab that people are most likely to conjure. The lab has even been featured on the new “Hawaii Five-0.” (Holland had a cameo.) Holland’s longtime work at the lab recently earned him a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Swiping his badge and entering the bright, sterile lab, which is not much bigger than a classroom, Holland walked by 16 long metal tables with bones laid out, some with a complete skeletons, and others with pieces of bone that look like piles of jagged stones. Some bones were grayed out like seashells, and others were dark brown, almost burnt looking – the different colors betraying the countries in which they were found. Vietnam’s acidic ground bites at bones, leaving them pitted. One skeleton had a green-tinted sternum and ribs, a patina from oxidation of a copper belt with bullets that was strapped to the vet’s chest.

How Eakin found Bud

Combing through historical records, Eakin learned that his cousin Bud was one of 14 ‘unknowns’ buried in grave 717. Here is how he narrowed it further.


Out of the 14 bodies found in Grave 717, the Army immediately identifies Daniel Bain from his dog tag.

1948, Two Years Later

The Army identifies three more men, and send them home for burial.

2011, 63 Years Later

After looking at the dental records of all 10 bodies remaining, John Eakin finds that only one had gold inlays. Bud had gold inlays.

 “There’s no formula that applies to every case,” Holland said.

Under Holland’s direction, J-PAC’s lab hasn’t prioritized DNA analysis, despite it being an advancement that has revolutionized forensic science. J-PAC’s method begins with historians sifting through archival material to start to narrow down who someone might be.

“It may be 100 people, 200 people, 500 people, that’s fine,” Holland said.

Then they compare bones to dental charts and other medical records. Combining that with archaeological analysis and artifacts, they try to winnow down the list to one person. DNA comes in last, only as a confirmation tool.

Scientists engaged in similar work elsewhere do the opposite. They start with DNA and let it drive the process, taking samples from bones they dig up and cross-referencing them against databases of DNA from the families of the missing to find a match.


“It’s how you get people identified these days,” said Clyde Snow, one of the world’s foremost forensic anthropologists. “It opened up a whole new world for us.”

Since the earlier 2000s, the DNA-led approach has been used in more than 30 countries to efficiently identify casualties of mass tragedies, including the United States after Sept. 11.

In post-conflict Bosnia, scientists initially used the traditional anthropological techniques that J-PAC relies on now and identified only seven out of the more than 4,000 bodies from the Srebrenica massacre, according to Ed Huffine, a forensic scientist who later designed a DNA-led process there.

Once they turned to DNA, Huffine said, they were able to make 400 identifications per month at the peak of their efforts.

J-PAC does occasionally start from DNA when bones from many people have been mixed together – as they have done with a complicated case involving 500 co-mingled remains from the Korean War.

But Holland’s deputy at J-PAC, John Byrd, said the lab rarely needs to resort to that. While using DNA first makes sense in places like Bosnia, where authorities lacked medical records for the missing, the U.S. military keeps copious records. And even advocates of DNA agree that relying on records can make sense in some cases.

J-PAC has also faced cases in which DNA wasn’t an option. Soldiers buried as unknowns from the Korean War were embalmed, making DNA extraction impossible. Holland’s team developed a much-admired innovation to get around that limitation, matching clavicle bones to chest radiographs taken to screen for tuberculosis.

But those cases are an exception. Typically, Holland’s lab has been able to extract DNA, including on all WWII cases it has worked on.

“If we worked together, concentrating on DNA, we could decrease greatly the time it takes to make identifications,” said a current J-PAC anthropologist.

Holland insists his process works. Making an identification “is an awesome burden,” Holland said, sitting in his paper-strewn office. Sticky notes act as a Rolodex, one wall displays dozens of photocopies of his hand with notes he wrote on his palm during meetings, and on a shelf in his bookcase are copies of two novels he penned – starring a fictionalized version of himself. “At the end of the day, I carry that burden.”

“If there is a better way to do it, I’m willing to take a look at it, but at some point the government pays me to do my job,” he said in a measured cadence that conveyed both annoyance and self-restraint. “And clearly I’m biased here, but I think I do a fairly good job.”

Holland’s job has been made harder by the overall military’s failure to systematically collect and sort comparison DNA samples from family members of the missing.

Scientists in Argentina, where around 9,000 disappeared in the country’s “dirty war,” started assembling a database of such samples even before they had the technology to analyze them.

“We were collecting samples even though there was no possibility to process them, but the relatives were dying,” said Mercedes Doretti, co-founder of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team. Later, Argentina launched a national campaign — funded in part by the U.S. government — to collect more DNA, using famous actors and soccer teams to promote it.

There has been no such campaign in the U.S. In an era of Facebook and Twitter, J-PAC officials heralded a 2001 Pentagon letter that ran in the widely syndicated “Ask Ann Landers” column. It didn’t work. Fewer samples came in after the letter than before, an Army official said.

Huffine and other experts say using DNA effectively requires one central database and single authority overseeing it. But the Pentagon has six different agencies handling aspects of DNA testing and collection, spread out from Hawaii to Delaware. Each military branch is tasked with collecting samples from relatives of the missing from their service.

The Pentagon has relatively complete records for Vietnam and Korea but only a fraction of the needed samples from WWII. Nothing was on record for Bud or the others from Grave 717 until Eakin got involved.

The Army organizes its samples broadly by war and not by theater, major battle or event. Officials said they had no way to discern how many samples they had in hand related to the Cabanatuan unknowns, for example.

Once the military does get DNA samples, there are further delays. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, which processes samples for J-PAC, takes 110 days on average to sequence DNA, much longer than commercial labs.

“Just waiting for DNA and trying to find a donor for DNA” from a family member — “a lot of the pauses in progress occur there,” a former J-PAC anthropologist said.

Eakin first heard of Bud as a teenager, when, looking at framed photographs on the wall, he asked about a black-and-white photo of a young man he didn’t recognize.

“That’s Bud,” his grandfather told him in a quiet voice.

“That was the only time I saw my grandpa cry,” Eakin recalled.

The correspondence Bud’s parents had from the military ended in 1950 with a letter telling them that Bud was “not recoverable” and “should any additional evidence come to our attention indicating that his remains are in our possession, you will be informed immediately.”

His parents died in the 1960s, without any resolution about their son.

Herman Kelder was Bud’s only sibling. He left his son, Doug, a file box full of documents.
Doug and Ron Kelder, Bud’s cousin, have looked to the dogged Eakin to solve the family mystery.

Bud’s story wasn’t meaningful to Eakin just because he was family. As a rowdy teenager in rural Indiana, Eakin joined the Army after a night of drinking with his buddies and did two tours in Vietnam. He wouldn’t easily give up on the cousin who hadn’t been as lucky as he was to make it home.

In the spring of 2010, Eakin had two breakthroughs.

He tracked down an audio tape recorded by Bud’s older brother in 1994, shortly before he died.

“I got out of dental school in 1935,” Herman Kelder said on the tape. As he started to build his practice, he had worked on Bud and “put some gold inlays in his mouth where he had some silver fillings.”

Distinctive dental work like that could help identify Bud among the 10 unknowns from Grave 717, Eakin realized. Perhaps the military had noted in its files if any of the bodies had gold inlays.

A week after making the discovery, Eakin attended a meeting hosted by the Defense Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Office, or DPMO, another Pentagon agency whose mission overlaps with J-PAC’s. The meeting’s purpose was to update family members on the search for their loved ones, but officials told Eakin that even aided by his new information, Bud was unlikely ever to be identified.

Not long after that, Eakin received a package in the mail from a sympathetic source inside the Pentagon: It contained what the government calls X-files for the 10 unknowns buried in Grave 717.

When the military couldn’t identify a set of remains in the years after WWII, it put all the documentation it had assembled — where the body was found, skeletal details and dental charts — into a file assigned an X-number to stand in for a name. There are about 8,500 X-files from World War II.

Eakin went through the X-files for the bodies in Grave 717. Only one — X-816 — had gold inlays.

Image: The unknown body from Grave 717 labelled X-816 had gold inlays, as shown here in the dental chart. Out of the 14 men from that group grave, this body was the only one with such dental work. Searching for Bud's remains in 2010, his cousin John Eakin learns that Bud had gold inlays put in before the war. Eakin surmises that X-816 is Bud. (Courtesy of John Eatkin)

Eakin was ecstatic that the clues led so directly to his cousin. Unknown soldier X-816 — seemingly, Bud — was buried in grave A-12-195 in the Manila American Cemetery. Eakin went back to the Army that April, thinking, “We’ll have him home in a week.”

By September, the only progress the government had made was to produce a research memo on Bud’s case. Heather Harris, a DPMO historian, concluded that the archival evidence — mainly the death report ledger that the POWs had kept at Cabanatuan — was unreliable and therefore insufficient to warrant disinterment. She also noted another complication: Some of the remains appeared to have been commingled when they were first disinterred in the 1940s. It was possible that identifications made then had been wrong.

On Sept. 21, a J-PAC dentist compared the dental records in the Grave 717 X-files with other dental records for the 10 men buried in that grave. He couldn’t conclusively match any of them. There’s no indication in the report that Herman Kelder’s taped statement about Bud’s gold inlays was part of the analysis.

Eakin had hit another wall.

By this time, proving X-816 was really Bud had become an obsession. Eakin was prone to such quests. When serious injuries from a helicopter crash ended his career as a pilot in the mid-’80s, Eakin combed through FAA data to understand the cause of the accident. He couldn’t simply file it away as an unfortunate accident and move on.

“I had to know why it fell out the sky,” he said.

Teaching himself to write computer software, he turned the agency’s 4-foot stack of 9-track tapes into a searchable database, then sold the agency his improved version of its own data. Consulting on aviation accidents became Eakin’s full-time job.

“If J-PAC thinks he’s going to give up, they’re wrong,” said Joan Eakin, his wife of 38 years.

Increasingly frustrated by the military’s inaction, Eakin broadened his efforts beyond Bud. After a drawn-out battle with the Department of Defense, Eakin obtained access to all World War II and Korea X-files, more than 9,400 in all. Then he built a database with material from 3,000 files for unknowns buried along with Bud in the American cemetery in Manila, methodically entering information for weeks in the evenings.

He discovered that all the way back in the 1940s, the military had made tentative identifications for more than half of those X-files, tying each set of remains to a few service members or, in some cases, just one. Many of the cases seemed as solvable as Bud’s. In one instance, Eakin concluded, a Silver Star recipient had never been identified because his name was spelled wrong.

“It’s not rocket science,” he told anyone who would listen.

Eakin didn’t understand why the military didn’t just exhume all the men who had been buried in Grave 717.

While some oppose focusing on disinterments, arguing those men have already been found, the Pentagon began encouraging J-PAC to exhume more unknowns 15 years ago based on the emerging promise of DNA. J-PAC has done just 111 disinterments since then. Half of those were exhumed in the past two years, in part a response to the mounting pressure to make more IDs.

“The laboratory is pursuing disinterments very aggressively,” Holland said.

J-PAC recently set a goal to dig up 150 sets of remains per year by 2018. Even at that pace, the agency would need until about 2081 just to get the 9,400 unknown World War II and Korea service members out of the ground.

Holland approves just a handful of the disinterment requests that come across his desk. Cases go first to the head of the disinterment unit, who dismisses about 80 percent of them, Holland said. The rest go to Holland, who said he rejects another 80 percent. That means only 4 percent of cases considered for disinterment move forward.

Holland said he is “handcuffed” by a 1999 Pentagon policy that requires a “high probability of identification” before exhumation.

There is disagreement within the military about whether the policy is still in effect. Officials at DPMO, which frequently squabbles with J-PAC, say it isn’t.

“It’s J-PAC’s choice,” said Navy Capt. Doug Carpenter, chief of accounting policy for DPMO.
“How they choose to hold themselves accountable for disinterment is up to J-PAC, and they do a fine job.”

Regardless, Holland has the power to define the exact standard for disinterment. He has imposed strict parameters for how many people a set of remains could possibly be before moving forward to dig them up: typically, no more than five. He will not lower the threshold even in instances where comparison DNA could be used to identify disinterred remains.

Holland might still be smarting from a 2003 blunder in which J-PAC dug up remains of unidentified sailors who had been on the USS Oklahoma when it sunk in Pearl Harbor. Agency officials had failed to investigate the historical archives adequately and exhumed a container with bones from hundreds of people instead of the five they were expecting.

After this, the Pentagon decided to halt any further Oklahoma cases and required additional layers of bureaucratic approval for disinterments, but as a practical matter it is still Holland who makes the calls.

McKeague, the military commander of J-PAC, now has to endorse disinterment requests approved by Holland. Asked whether he ever questions Holland’s judgment, McKeague held up his hand like a stop sign and said that lab decisions were squarely Holland’s domain.

“His credentials are impeccable,” McKeague said.

The request next goes to DPMO, which has its own historians check the work, then to the assistant secretary of the Army for final approval, but the Army has never turned J-PAC down.

Holland acknowledged that what he called the Pentagon’s “knee-jerk” reaction to the USS Oklahoma mess left him reluctant to push for disinterments for fear of losing more autonomy. He expressed concern about having bodies that J-PAC can’t identify stack up in his lab.

“I might have a certain amount of discretion in how I interpret ‘high probability,’ but that discretion will be taken away from me” should the ratio of exhumed graves to identifications get out of balance, he said. “I guess in that sense, I am a little risk averse.”

In January 2011, Eakin’s persistence finally seemed to spur some progress.

J-PAC anthropologist Paul Emanovsky examined the cases of the 14 men who had been buried in Grave 717 in Cabanatuan, including Bud’s, and concluded that identifications were possible.

“I think it’s worth pursuing these cases, there are some pretty strong correlations for a couple of causalities, and others are reasonable,” Emanovsky wrote in a previously undisclosed email to Holland and the lab manager, John Byrd.

Regardless of the likely poor condition of the bones, “I think that all hope is not lost,” Emanovsky’s note said. Since the bones of the soldiers might have been commingled, he advised exhuming them all and comparing them with DNA from family members. “We could potentially identify several of these individuals,” he said.

Ten months later, the head of J-PAC’s office of disinterment reviewed the case and echoed Emanovsky’s findings in a brief memo, noting that while the bones were “eroded,” DNA “may help in identification of remains from Common Grave 717."

The memo was sent to Holland on Oct. 19, 2011. Even then, he did not act to disinter Bud and the others and carry out DNA testing.

At another family update meeting in Texas on Feb. 26, 2012, Eakin met with Johnnie Webb, J-PAC’s external relations chief. Despite the reports from members of the agency’s staff supporting disinterment, Webb told Eakin there was no evidence to support further investigation into Bud’s case.

Eakin had had enough. “We waited and waited and finally filed a lawsuit in federal court,” he said.

On Oct. 18, 2012, Eakin sued the Department of Defense, naming the secretary of defense, Webb and the head of DPMO, in United States District Court in Texas to force them to disinter Bud and the other World War II unknowns.

The lawsuit has survived several government motions to dismiss.

In a January 2013 memo prompted by the suit, Holland cited the policy that, again, he himself interprets.

“No definitive individual associations could be established based on the available documentation,” he wrote. “While it is possible that one or more individuals could be realized if all unknown remains from this incident were disinterred for analysis, the existing and available data do not meet the level of scientific certainty required by current DoD disinterment guidance.

Citing the suit, J-PAC and DPMO declined to comment on any specifics of Bud’s case.

After years of fruitless struggle, Eakin has become convinced that J-PAC’s “job is justifying doing nothing — and they do their job well.”

It’s unclear whether the law will come down on Eakin’s side, but there’s reason to believe the judge is sympathetic to his claim.

“Notwithstanding giving his last full measure of devotion to this country,” U.S. District Judge Fred Biery wrote, “Private Kelder’s government declines, on technical legal reasons as opposed to spirit of the law, to give him a decent burial in a marked grave alongside others who died in service to the United States.”

The Kelders want to put Bud in the family crypt in the Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago where Bud grew up. That’s where Bud’s parents, who so badly wanted to bring their boy home, are interred.

“All this isn’t about just digging up a bunch of old bones. This is about giving a family closure,” Eakin said. “These men gave their all, and we can at least give them their names on their headstone.”

Additional research by Gerald Rich. Additional design and development by Lena Groeger.

Related: Bud's Story, From the Records




Need for immediate crack down on high flying wilful defaulters –Part I

Now that the RBI governor has spoken his mind, it is time that our banks to take it as a cart Blanche to go hammer and tongs against large numbers of wilful loan defaulters to move ruthlessly at them. This is first part of a two part series

Finance Minister P Chidambaram, speaking on 6 March 2014 after a performance review meeting with public sector banks (PSBs) and financial institutions, stated, “Non-performing assets (NPAs) at end of March 2013 were 3.84%. For March 2014, it is likely to be higher... They will have to focus on asset quality, credit appraisal and also on recovery... Banks have managed to recover Rs18,933 crore during April-December 2013 and accounts worth around Rs22,000 crore have been upgraded.” On an earlier occasion, he had said, “We cannot have an affluent promoter and a sick company. Promoters must bring in the money. We wish banks take firm steps to recover NPAs.”

The last part relating to ‘upgrading’ is rather disconcerting as the methods employed by the banks tantamount to pure and simple window dressing of their bad accounts. The commonest of them is back door write-off of substantial portions or parts of the stressed loans by adopting the corporate debt restructuring (CDR) route by resorting to restructuring them under a fresh nomenclature called “re-greening” without classifying them as NPAs. While this can hold well in cases of genuine business downturns, it shouldn’t be blatantly applied across the board for cases of massive wrong doings like Kingfisher Airlines and Lanco Infra.

This has given rise now to two patently unhealthy practices that should not be permitted, a) relieving promoters of personal guarantees and b) conversion of debts into equity as they go contrary to Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Dr Raghuram Rajan’s assertion upon taking charge on 4 September 2013 that “the promoters do not have the divine right regardless of how badly they manage an enterprise nor the right to use the banking system to recapitalize their failed ventures.”

a) Relieving wilful defaulting promoters of personal guarantees, more particularly of those promoters, who have already feathered their own nests using bank funds, deliberately do not pay despite adequate cash flow and enough net worth, siphon and dispose off borrowed funds, misuse sale proceeds of assets, constantly falsify hypothecated stocks and debtors, fudge books of accounts and inventory records, misrepresent and falsify, remove securities without the knowledge of the banks and indulge in patently fraudulent transactions.

b) Conversion of debt into equity at absurd valuations to reduce the outstanding dues only that result in diluting the valuable tangible security into being left holding absolutely dud, much below par shares as investments. The delinquent managements will be only too glad to be done with the worthless shares by reducing their equity holdings as was done again by Kingfisher Airlines and Lanco Infra by bringing down substantially their holdings to as low as 25% from 66%.    

The Rajan effect

In a full page interview to the Economic Times while speaking about RBI’s priorities, the RBI governor Dr Rajan very rightly pointed out that he cannot “ignore the fact that India has changed and to use those same rules of the thumb, I think creates problems.. If uncertainty has increased, you will have more restructures but we have to be careful that those restructurings are genuine and not strategic and do not occur because of malfeasance. The public in many ways does pay a price for restructuring because these are public sector banks that are taking the hits on the debts they have given. The public has the right to know that their money is being used in a fair way.”  

Shilpa Sinha, in her article “Revolution on Loan restructuring” writes about “Good reasons if the RBI governor has his way in transforming the banking system and treats loan recast and defaulters.” She goes on to quotes his interview – “I think they have to make their decisions without fear or favour…Inefficient management teams have to be thrown out and lenders’ rights over ownership of defaulter’s assets have to be established.” 

Now that the RBI governor has spoken his mind, it is time that our banks to take it as a cart Blanche to go hammer and tongs against large numbers of wilful loan defaulters to move ruthlessly at them. The list of names of NPAs is already in circulation has to be put out in public domain along those of restructured loans. 

Immediate crack down of high flying wilful defaulters required

The Mahapatra Committee appointed by the RBI require corporates seeking loan structuring to heighten promoter’s stakes by not less to 25% of the reduction in the value of security. This is in toughening the banking regulator’s stance seeks to curb bankers’ attempts at mollycoddling chronic defaulting corporates, who always deemed it their birth-right to milk banking system. This however, is spelling utter disaster and going to prove that such mindless magnanimity is tantamount to throwing good money at concessional rates after bad money that went to the pockets of greedy directors.  Insisting on unconditional personal guarantees of the directors and pledge of additional shares of the same and/ or other dud companies is not worth the stamp paper they are written on.

Hey days financial boom

The heady financial sectors boom of 2006-2008 kick started the risk equity capital - initial public offerings (IPOs), follow-up on public offerings (FPOs), qualified institutional placements (QIPs), private equity (PE) investments and western foreign institutional investors (FIIs) flooded eastwards consequent upon the meltdown there. This deluged our markets with funds of all hues and colours, legitimate and illegitimate irrespective of enterprise valuations (EVs) resulting in massive bank and institutional lending for setting up and for working capital for inadequately evaluated large projects that perforce fell by the roadside subsequently. Most the banks then did not even appraise the projects adequately by considering whether the borrowers held the required land acquisition, environmental clearances and coal linkages. Borrowers ought to be required to approach lenders with revival plans at a much earlier stage of the stress, as is the practice in the US.

(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai based chartered accountant turned activist.)



Khaja Mohiuddin

3 years ago

Unless and until Govt of India, Reserve Bank of India and Board of Directors of Banks sit with the Judiciary and appraise the judicial authorities the seriousness of the bad loans and its effect on the banks functioning and image before the customers, to enable them to bring laws for immediate seizure of all assets to clear the bank loans-dues and over dues. Government and RBI to come down heavily on war footing to recover bad loans. The corporates should not be give debt relief under any circumstances.

Shamrao Vinekar

3 years ago

Almost every PSU bank has been robbed by influential class of politicians and industrialists and public money has been looted.This is similar to PSU Airline Air India and ITDC's Ashoka Hotel. Nobody is held accountable and there is no serious attempt to recover the outstanding from defaulters and prosecute them or attach their assets.

Khaja Mohiuddin

3 years ago

The views expressed are very worthy and deserves action for recovery on war footing. The laxity of the officials to be examined and suitable action initiated for negligence and casual approach.

Gopal Sharma

3 years ago

Zenith Birla (India) Limited FD Scheme, Chairman Yeshovardhan Birla is defaulting for Nonpayment of Maturity Amount of Rs.13, 88, 670/- Due on Maturity Date: 15 / 09 / 2013 on F.D.R. No. 52932, Dated: 14 / 10 / 2010 toward GOPAL SHARMA (Prof. IIT) and NILAM SHARMA.
No reply to any of many letters written to Registrar, Zenith Birla (India) Ltd. Praful Shah:
([email protected])
Adroit Corporate Services Pvt.Ltd. 17- 20, Jaferbhoy Ind. Estate,1st Floor, Makwana Road,
Marol Naka, Andheri (E), Mumbai 400059, India
Also to Chairman at registered office of Zenith Birla (India) Ltd.
I do not know what is going on? It is my right to know what happened to my money and the company's efforts for payment of my money due which is Rs.15, 65, 310/- due now on 15 / Mar / 2014 . GOPAL SHARMA



In Reply to Gopal Sharma 3 years ago

In Sahara's case,SEBI has taken up,as it is Listed Company.For Unlisted Company ,way out is to complain to FM & PM & Company Law Board or Ministry of Corporate Affairs ..GOI has to decide controlling Unlisted Companies FD Collections Regularisation Mechanism.

Khaja Mohiuddin

3 years ago

GOI/RBI/Banks to take stock of bad debts on war footing and initiate recovery proceedings.


3 years ago

Excellently elaborated Article. Rangarajan, RBI , has to study deep and issue Elaborate Guidelines to Banks on above Areas, as banks have got accustomed to above explained wrong Practices - to save their Skin.

Sensex, Nifty close at all time high on shrinking CAD: Thursday closing report

Until Nifty closes below 6,315, the upmove would continue

Taking cues from the Asian counterparts, the Indian indices on Thursday made gradual upmove and closed at their all time high. The BSE 30-share Sensex opened at 21,336 while NSE 50-share Nifty opened at 6,345. After hitting the day’s low almost at the same level, both the indices edged higher to hit a high of 21,525 and 6,407. Sensex closed at 21,514 (up 237 points or 1.11%) while Nifty closed at 6,401 (73 points or 1.15%). The NSE recorded a huge volume of 74.49 crore shares.


India's current account deficit (CAD) narrowed sharply to $4.2 billion (0.9% of GDP) in Q3 of 2013-14 from $31.9 billion (6.5% of GDP) in Q3 of 2012-13 which is also lower than $5.2 billion (1.2% of GDP) in Q2 of 2013-14. The lower CAD was primarily on account of a decline in the trade deficit as merchandise exports picked up and imports moderated, particularly gold imports. The data was as per the preliminary data on India's balance of payments (BoP) for the third quarter (Q3), from October-December 2013, of the financial year 2013-14, presented by Reserve Bank of India in Statements I and II.


On a BoP basis, merchandise exports increased by 7.5% to $ 79.8 billion in Q3 of 2013-14 (3.9% in Q3 of 2012-13) while on the other hand, merchandise imports at $ 112.9 billion, recorded a decline of 14.8% in Q3 of 2013-14 as against an increase of 10.4% in Q3 of 2012-13. As a result, the merchandise trade deficit (BoP basis) contracted by around 43% to $33.2 billion in Q3 of 2013-14 from $58.4 billion a year ago.


US indices closed flat on Wednesday. US companies added 139,000 workers in February, fewer than the market estimates, a report from the ADP Research Institute in Roseland, New Jersey showed. Separate data indicated that service industries in the US expanded in February at the slowest pace in four years. The Institute for Supply Management's non- manufacturing index slipped to 51.6 in February from 54 the previous month.


Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen vowed on Wednesday to do all that she can to boost the US economy that is running well short of the central bank's objectives.


Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, on Wednesday said he was concerned about "eye-popping levels" of some stock market metrics, and said the central bank has to monitor the signs carefully to make sure another bubble isn't forming.


All the Asian indices closed in the green. Nikkei 225 (1.59%) was the top gainer.


Business activity across emerging markets expanded in February at the slowest pace in five months, weighed down by weaker manufacturing in big developing countries such as Russia and China, a survey showed on Thursday.


HSBC's composite emerging markets index of manufacturing and services purchasing managers' surveys slipped for the third month running to 51.1 in February. It stayed under the 2013 average of 51.7 and well below a long-run level of 54.0.


Based on data from purchasing managers at about 8,000 firms in 17 countries, the survey showed Chinese factory output stayed below the 50 mark. Manufacturing in Russia, India and Brazil hovered just above 50.


European indices were trading in the green while US Futures were trading marginally higher.


A two-day meeting of Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) ends today, 6 March 2014, to decide interest rates in UK. Policy rates are expected to remain unchanged at record low.


UK house-price growth accelerated in February to the fastest in almost five years as the economic recovery strengthened, boosting demand for property.


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