On October 29, 1943, First Lieutenant Lyndon Raff and eight other soldiers perished in a fiery plane crash in the hills of Burma while delivering supplies to air raid warning stations and guerilla fighters. The bodies of the soldiers, or what was left of them after the plane cartwheeled down the side of a hill and exploded, were buried later that day at the site of the crash, wrapped in little more than a few pieces of canvas.
Their remains lay in that shallow grave for more than two years, until late 1945, after the war ended and just as The Return of the World War II Dead Program was firing up. Just after Christmas, the remains were disinterred and brought down the hill to the temporary U.S. Military Cemetery at Kalaikunda, India, for identification and reburial.
The identification process was tough, to say the least. Victims of plane crashes are notoriously difficult to identify because severe impact and fiery explosions leave very little “raw material” to analyze. Today, DNA testing can produce conclusive results on even the smallest fragments of teeth, bones, hair, or blood. But back then, the identification of crash victims was heavily dependent on visually matching teeth to dental records. It’s not clear how the identification experts at Kalaikunda came up with their conclusion, but they were able to separate Lyndon’s remains and those of Corporal Max Hall from the other seven servicemen. However, there was no way to separate the two soldiers and establish individual identities. Their remains were designated “co-mingled” and, as such, were buried together in a common grave at Kalaikunda.
Two-and-a-half years would pass before the soldiers’ co-mingled remains were once again exhumed in April, 1948, and sent to the nearest processing station at Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii. Although it was clear that the remains belonged to Lyndon and Max Hall, at Schofield they were labeled “Unknown X-99 A” and “Unknown X-99 B.” Then the two “unknowns” were stored in a casket in U.S. Army Mausoleum No. 2 where, protected by 24-hour military guards, they lay waiting for their identities to be revealed. But standard methods of identification again proved useless: no one could establish separate identities for them.
The next stop was Schofield’s “big gun,” the Central Identification Laboratory, where Unknowns X-99 A and X-99 B underwent a more detailed scientific examination by an anthropologist. Ninety-nine percent of the remains brought to CIL were skeletal, and in the best-case scenario could reveal a person’s race, sex, height, approximate age, and weight. Larger bone fragments might show evidence of healed fractures or malformations that could be matched to prior injuries. Even if only a few pieces of bone remained, the anthropologist attempted to reassemble a skeleton or, in the case of a group, several skeletons. The hope was that, by using established height and weight information, it might be possible to attribute certain bones to a specific individual, so even the tiniest bits of bone matter were carefully measured and analyzed. Unfortunately, in the case of X-99 A and X-99 B, the process was like trying to assemble a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle using a handful of sand.
When all scientific methods of identification had been exhausted, the official conclusion was that Unknowns X-99 A and X-99 B could not be identified separately. Therefore, they would forever be classified as a group containing the remains of First Lieutenant Lyndon O. Raff and Corporal Max K. Hall.
Their remains went back on the shelf where they sat for almost two more years before being returned to the U.S. for burial in January, 1950. By then, more than six years had elapsed since their deaths, an excruciatingly long and painful waiting period for their loved ones. But with 280,000 deceased soldiers and sailors scattered around the world waiting to be analyzed, identified, and brought back for burial, these two, like all the others, had to wait their turn. Get in line, soldier!
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