Governor Tony Evers’ 2021-2023 budget disbursed funds to the University of Wisconsin Missing-in-action Recovery and Identification Project after surviving budget cuts.
Funding for the project sat idle throughout 2020, pending approval by Wisconsin legislators, despite the unanimous support by senators after the October 22, 2019 public hearing.
The public hearing presented Senate Bill 446 by Senator Roger Roth of the 19th District, which sought the allocation of $360,000 over two years.
Senators recognized cutting the funding of the project could be a controversial issue after consulting with veterans like Al Labelle who testified. Labelle spoke on behalf of Disabled American Veterans of Wisconsin as their media coordinator.
DAV of Wisconsin spoke in favor to endorse the repatriating of remains to bring closure to the families of those still missing.
On October 29, 2019, spokesperson Al Labelle of the Disabled American Veterans of Wisconsin testifies before senators speaking in favor of Senate Bill 446.
One of the missing is Wisconsin servicemember First Lieutenant Jerome Volk. His P-80 Shooting Star crashed in North Korea after being shot down by artillery in 1951.
The October 2019 public hearing presented testimony from Lieutenant Jerome Volk’s niece, Jeri Volk-Barry. Her testimony provided insight of the benefit the Volk family receives from the UW MIA Recovery and Identification Project.
“The fact that Jerry has never been returned has taken a toll on our entire family and continues to do so. In all honesty, with so many years passed, I had no hope until recently that will ever happen,” Volk-Barry said speaking in support of Senate Bill 446.
The hope Volk-Barry spoke of acknowledged the efforts of the project, which located three servicemembers so far. Each two-year term funds the locating and identifying of up to three missing servicemembers from Wisconsin.
The public hearing offered testimony from members and supporters of the veteran community who all spoke in favor of funding Senate Bill 446.
Volk-Barry’s testimony shared her family’s ongoing challenge to keep hope alive stating:
- The Volk family receives updates from the Department of Defense who fully supports funding the identification projects.
- Wisconsin families will receive hope and closure from project funding, which provides advances in science and technology when identifying missing servicemembers.
- Funding the project will open side doors, which works outside the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense when locating and identifying remains.
COVID-19 prolonged the search for Lieutenant Volk stalling the momentum of the project. On April 1, 2020, Senate Bill 446 went back to the Wisconsin State Assembly for ratification, which allowed legislators to address specific reasoning for funding through Joint Resolution 1.
The project faced the reality of budget cuts.
The group continued to press forward despite facing potential setbacks by planning their next location site. The group plans their travels abroad in teams to conduct archaeological surveys.
The team investigates and inspects crash sites and last-known geographical whereabouts by connecting with members of The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency registry.
“The team members maintain their focus on a goal that conducts elicit research with each case thoroughly surveying a crash or burial site to extract remains. As a senior study of archaeology, the project has allowed me the opportunity to learn and conduct the practical application of many skills,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison Archaeology Senior Torrey Tiedeman as a spokesperson for the project.
Tiedeman served in the War on Terror as a Marine Corps Infantryman whose career passion seeks to serve the veteran community. Tiedeman spoke about the rewarding experience of finding the remains of those lost.
Tiedeman testified about the impact the project has on our nation when Wisconsin invests in bringing our missing servicemembers home.
On January 21, 2021, the Wisconsin State Senate passed Senate Bill 446 unanimously. The project will continue moving forward resiliently coming out of the pandemic.
The University of Wisconsin Missing-in-action Recovery and Identification Project supporters hope the day will come when our scholars bring Lieutenant Jerome A. Volk home.