OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – A new bill aims to bring closure to families of soldiers missing in action.

Since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, there have been 80,000 United States service members reported as missing in action across the world. About 1,500 of them are from Wisconsin. 

Jeri Volk Barry and her family have been waiting 70 years to recover the remains of her uncle Jerome Volk who died fighting for his country in the Korean War.

“It’s impossible to underestimate the power closure can have on a healthy grieving process,” says Barry.

Jeri is named after her uncle and her father, who passed away recently, spent his whole life trying to bring the remains of his brother back home.

This new bill comes on POW/MIA Recognition Day. Senator Roger Roth and Representative Ken Skowronski are the state politicians introducing the bill. Roth is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“When I think about the collective anguish felt by the 1,500 Wisconsin families with missing war dead it is absolutely beyond my capability to describe in words of what this is like,” explains Barry.

The goal of this bill is to make sure the remains of these soldiers are located, identified, and brought back to the United States.

“This bill means closure to Wisconsin families,” comments Roth.

It would provide $180,000 per year through 2023 to the University of Wisconsin Missing in Action Recovery and Identification Project. The group of researchers, professors, and students locate, identify, and bring home the remains of American soldiers killed in action all over the world. Funding from Roth’s bill would allow the group to focus on Wisconsin’s list of missing in action soldiers.

The University of Wisconsin project has one distinct advantage over the United States Department of Defense which historically has been responsible for recovering the remains of America’s fallen soldiers.

Some countries with rocky relationships with the United States, like China and North Korea, won’t let the Department of Defense into their country because they are part of the federal government. But because the University of Wisconsin isn’t part of the federal government they have a better chance of getting access to these countries.

Senator Roth says he will get a hearing on the bill in October and is hopeful it can get passed by January. He says the money comes from the state’s general purpose fund.

“Over time these cases get harder and harder to solve so it’s really a race against time,” explains Vaneesa Cook who is the historian with the University of Wisconsin’s MIA Recovery and Identification Project.

As time goes on, it gets harder to find remains of soldiers because family members who can provide critical information may pass away. In addition, people who lived in warzones where remains of American soldiers may be located and can provide information may pass away as well.

“We need to bring home our fallen, our heroes deserve nothing less,” adds Barry.

Last session, this legislation received unanimous votes in both houses but couldn’t get passed because of COVID-19.