Santa Fe grave exhumed to verify if ex-POW in PH is really buried there
SANTA FE, New Mexico – United States Army technicians are exhuming one grave in Santa Fe National Cemetery to find out if a former WWII prisoner of war in the Philippines is really the one buried there for the last six decades.
Private First Class Juan Gutierrez was among the 2,800 prisoners who died in a POW camp after the Japanese forces sent them on the Bataan Death March.
“PFC Gutierrez passed away on November 19, 1942,” the U.S. Army’s William “Shorty” Cox told KRQE News 13. “There were 13 other people that passed away on that day, they were all buried in one grave.”
After the war, the military believed they found Gutierrez’s remains and sent them back to his family, who buried him at the Santa Fe National Cemetery in 1950. But years later, when DNA analysis became available the Department of Defense found more of Gutierrez’s remains in a Philippine mass grave in the Philippines. The department realized there had been co-mingling of remains.
The military told they eventually found Gutierrez’s family in California and they gave permission to exhume the grave to find out who really is buried there. About 37,000 soldier’s remains are still unaccounted for from WWII.
“We have to separate the remains that aren’t Gutierrez’s in that casket,” said Cox. “So, it’s kind of like putting a puzzle back together. It’s the moral thing to do.”
The military hopes to finally put Gutierrez’s and the other soldiers’ remains to rest and will give them full military honors when they are re-buried.