The Philippines and the United States agreed Friday to jointly search for remains of American troops missing in action in the Philippines during World War II.
The U.S. Embassy said the “statement of intent” signed Friday by Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. was the first step in setting guidelines for the search.
“Sadly, for over 65 years, many of those Americans who fought alongside Filipinos and gave their lives to liberate the Philippines in World War II have never been accounted for, as their remains have never been found,” Thomas said. “Their families have not been able to know their final stories nor properly lay them to rest.”
In a statement, the Foreign Affairs Department says the accord “honors the shared sacrifices made by the armed forces of both countries that stood together side by side to defend freedom during World War II.”
The Philippines, a U.S. commonwealth at the time, was a major WWII battlefield.
In 1942, the Japanese military forced 78,000 prisoners of war — 12,000 Americans and 66,000 Filipinos — to walk from Bataan province west of Manila to a prisoner of war camp in Tarlac province in the north.
As many as 11,000 prisoners died during the 65-mile ordeal that has become known as the Bataan Death March.
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines has graves of 17,202 Americans who died in WWII action, most in New Guinea and the Philippines. Tablets inscribed with names of the missing list 36,285, including some since recovered and identified, the cemetery website says.
Neither country gave current figures of the missing Friday, and it wasn’t clear if the cemetery’s figure was exclusive to the Philippines.