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Millcreek Journal

Student honors missing Utah military personnel

Sep 04, 2022 10:11AM ● By Liz Craker

By Liz Craker | [email protected]

During Utah National History Day this spring, Skyline High School teacher Melinda Reay was selected with senior Ayden Cline, to participate in the Sacrifice for Freedom: World War II in the Pacific Student & Teacher Institute, a student-teacher cooperative learning program. The program is coordinated through National History Day and took place in Hawaii this summer.

In preparation for the Hawaii institute, Cline developed a Silent Hero profile to be published online during the 2022-23 academic year at as part of the Sacrifice for Freedom program. Cline selected Ivan LeRoy Bills, a Riverton resident who died at sea at age 18, for his project. 

Cline has connected with Bills’ family and learned that Bills was awarded the Purple Heart and Navy Silver Star and that the family had never received those recognitions. Through Cline’s work, the awards were added to Bills’ gravesite and to his military commendations. 

Cline said that he presented his project in a program organized by the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. “It was really important to Ayden to honor someone who had never been recovered and will never be recovered,” said Reay, Skyline’s social studies teacher and 2019 Utah History Teacher of the Year.

“It was incredible I loved every minute of it. We had so many fun adventures, and the island was beautiful,” Cline said. “Having worked with the project for so long and learning about Bills’ story and finally being able to see where he was memorialized and speak about him was an unreal experience.”

The pair were also able to tour the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). The DPAA is an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense, and its mission is to recover American military personnel listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from designated past conflicts, from countries around the world. The agency’s team travels around the world using forensics and DNA to identify human remains. Reay said they learned that the agency identifies 200 service personnel every year.

Cline said it was hard to learn that according to U.S. Navy policy, military lost at sea are never recovered. “The ocean is their final burial ground and knowing they would never be recovered really humanized the war,” Cline said. “War has people in it that are not just the people in the history books. It’s individual people.”

Reay and Cline also spent the night on the USS Missouri, site of the official Japanese surrender of World War II. The ship is now a floating war memorial at Naval Station Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During their visit they learned about the archives process and preservation work of personal items retrieved from previous conflicts.

During their time on the USS Missouri, they learned that a Japanese surrender shipman gave the USS Missouri a sword as his own personal act of surrender. They also saw Sadako cranes that were made by Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was a victim of the U.S. atomic bombings.  She was 2 years old when the bombs were dropped and suffered from the severe radiation. She survived for another 10 years and is remembered through the story of the more than 1,000 origami cranes she folded before her death. She died at the age of 12 on Oct. 25, 1955 at the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital.

Cline recalls that a member of the USS Missouri tour leaders told him: “Remember what you saw here.” Cline said that it was a solemn reminder to remember WWII as if he had lived it.