Home News New Technology and Nonprofit Effort Identifies “Scioto River John Doe 1996” as...

New Technology and Nonprofit Effort Identifies “Scioto River John Doe 1996” as Decorated Chillicothe VA Patient

With the help of the "DNA Doe Project" and "Investigative Genetic Genealogy," Ward Raymond Thomas was finally positively identified.

Ross County — A decorated WWII veteran will finally be laid to rest in Chillicothe, after his remains have been genetically identified. (Learn more in the previous story, “Remains of Decorated WWII Veteran Finally Identified and to be Laid To Rest in Chillicothe.”)

Ward Raymond Thomas was a decorated WWII Army veteran with a Purple Heart when he disappeared from the Chillicothe VA hospital in 1972.

In 1996, his skull was found on a sandbar in the Scioto River behind Chillicothe Correctional Institute – just downstream from the VA – but could not be identified, and so his remains was referred to as “Scioto River John Doe 1996.”

In 2022 the case was reopened, and the remains were sent for DNA testing, and with the help of the “DNA Doe Project” and “Investigative Genetic Genealogy,” Ward Raymond Thomas was finally positively identified.

From a March 8th, 2023 online article updated March 13th, 2024 in the “DNA Doe Project”:

In 2022, investigators with the Ross County Office of the Coroner brought the cold case to the DNA Doe Project, hoping that investigative genetic genealogy would be able to finally find this man’s identity. They had obtained a grant to help fund the thousands of dollars of lab costs needed to develop a DNA profile suitable to upload to the databases used by law enforcement for this work…

It took less than two weeks of work to connect a handful of second and third cousins in a family tree, leading to Ward Thomas’s branch…

“The identification was made on Thanksgiving day. Being able to have a name and locate older newspaper articles about his disappearance on a day to be thankful for family to be able to gather was very meaningful,” said team leader Julie Bracker…”

(This was reprinted in a March 13th online article in Forensic Magazine.)

Last year’s Memorial Day commemoration at Soldier’s Square and Columbaria in Chillicothe’s Greenlawn Cemetery.

In additional news that has been released to the Scioto Post, arrangements have been made to lay his remains to rest locally. A ceremony for Thomas will be at 1pm April 15th, 2024, at the Columbarium in Greenlawn Cemetery in Chillicothe. The ceremony was set for the anniversary of when Thomas’ unit landed for invasion in the Pacific Theater of WWII.

Saipan, in the Mariana Islands, in the western Pacific. (From Wikipedia)

Thomas was injured in Saipan on January 15th, 1945, and hospitalized. Saipan is an island in the Mariana archipelago, “the largest island and capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean” according to Wikipedia:

In WWII, “Japan considered Saipan to be part of the last line of defenses for the Japanese homeland, and thus had strongly committed to defending it. The Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy garrisoned Saipan heavily from the late 1930s…in mid-1944, nearly 30,000 troops were based on the island.

“The Battle of Saipan, from June 15 to July 9, 1944, was one of the major campaigns of World War II. The United States Marine Corps and United States Army landed on the beaches of the south-western side of the island and, after more than three weeks in heavy fighting, captured the island from the Japanese. The battle cost the Americans 3,426 killed and 10,364 wounded…

“Seabees of the U.S. Navy also landed, to initiate construction projects. With the capture of Saipan, the American military was only 1,300 miles from the Japanese home islands, which placed most Japanese cities within striking distance of United States’ B-29 Superfortress bombers. The loss of Saipan was a heavy blow to both the military and civilian administration of Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who was forced to resign.”

U.S. Marines march through Garapan, the largest village on Saipan, in July of 1944. (From Wikipedia)

Leach and Pulver say that Ward Raymond Thomas was in the same unit as the hero in the recent “Hacksaw Ridge” movie, and same unit that reporter Ernie Pyle was in when he was killed.

In “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016), “World War II American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, serving during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.” It was directed by Mel Gibson, and stars Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington.

Ernie Pyle was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and war correspondent who is best known for his stories about ordinary American soldiers during World War II. He was killed on April 17, 1945. 

Watch for yet further details on this story.