The US plans to take home and identify the remains of unknown World War II soldiers from Africa’s only American cemetery, the US embassy in Tunisia said on Memorial Day Monday.
The announcement comes after the US and Tunisia signed a memorandum of understanding that will allow the US to exhume the remains of unknown soldiers from the North African American Cemetery and repatriate them for identification and reunification with relatives.
“We are deeply indebted to our fallen heroes and their families,” said embassy chargé d’affaires Natasha Franceschi. “Today’s landmark agreement will ensure that American servicemen who gave their lives to defend our freedom are recognized and honored for the ultimate sacrifice they made to our country.”
The cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia, near the Mediterranean Sea is the burial place for 2,841 American servicemen of the North African campaign. The Wall of the Missing, a memorial wall adjacent to the cemetery, lists the names of 3,724 servicemen who went missing in action and were never found.
It is not clear how many sets of remains will be returned to the US.
The Allied capture of Tunisia provided a foothold for the invasion of Europe during World War II. Despite early successes for German and Italian forces, the Axis powers lost their hold on Tunisia against the Allied forces, who were better supplied. By the summer of 1943, the Allies had taken Tunisia and expelled the rest of the Axis powers.
The North African American Cemetery, for servicemen killed in the campaign, was established in 1960, but the US has never been able to excavate and attempt to identify the remains of unknown soldiers.
The newly signed memorandum of understanding will finally allow the US to begin the often difficult process of excavating and identifying the remains. The embassy did not say how soon that would start.
A Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency official also attended the signing ceremony. That agency’s mission is to locate and identify U.S. military personnel using a combination of forensic science technology and military data.
Speaking at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasized the deep and unwavering commitment to honor the sacrifice of servicemen.
“If we have to choose between what’s easy and what’s good, let’s live by the example of our fallen warriors,” Austin said. “And when those values dear to us are put to the test, let us live by the ideals they have given their lives to defend.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify that it is unknown how many sets of relics will be returned to the US.