Thanks to advances in DNA testing, the family of a U.S. Army private from Southern California who died as a prisoner of war during World War II can finally bring him home.
U.S. Army Air Forces Pvt. John W. Ropp, 31, of Sierra Madre was captured by Japanese soldiers after intense fighting on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines in 1942, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. He joined approximately 75,000 thousand American and Filipino service members who were subjected to the 65-mile Bataan Death March as they were transferred to a POW camp in Cabanatuan.
Historians believe anywhere from 5,000 to 18,000 prisoners died during the march. Another 2,500 died at the POW camp, including Ropp.
“According to prison camp and other historical records, Ropp died July 28, 1942, and was buried along with other deceased prisoners in the local Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery in Common Grave 215,” the Department of Defense shared in a news release Monday.
After the war, remains from the mass grave were exhumed and moved to a temporary military mausoleum near Manila where efforts continued to identify them.
Only five sets were positively identified. By 1947, the rest were declared unidentifiable and buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial as “Unknowns.”
It wasn’t until 2018 and with advances in DNA testing that efforts to identify the remains resumed. They were disinterred from the Manila cemetery and sent to a laboratory in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for analysis.
Through mitochondrial DNA testing and other analysis, scientists were able to positively identify Pvt. Ropp’s remains in October 2022.
He will be buried in Camarillo, California on a date to be determined, the military said.
Ropp’s name was recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila cemetery, which is managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.