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Documentary chronicles efforts to repatriate American service members missing since WWII

J.D. Simkins

Jules McManus waves the flag over a found WWII MIA B-24 during recovery operations in 2008 in Palau. (Chris Perez/Courtesy of Abramorama)
Technological developments in recent decades have continued to galvanize oceanic research teams into scouring unfathomable distances and depths in missions aimed at locating World War II wreckages once believed to be lost to history.
Enlarge (Courtesy of Abramorama)

(Courtesy of Abramorama)

One such investigative outfit is Project Recover, a small team comprising oceanographers, archaeologists, historians, and military veterans who, since its inception in 1993, have searched the Earth’s farthest-flung corners in an endeavor to repatriate the remains of Americans still missing in action 75 years after the war concluded.

Though it began as a small-time operation by founder Dr. Pat Scannon, Project Recover has evolved into an effort backed by the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Delaware. In nearly three decades of operation, its teams have completed more than 60 missions in over 20 countries and territories, located more than 50 downed aircraft, and found more than 180 Americans once missing in action. Of those, 14 have been repatriated.

That remarkable work will soon be shared on the big screen in To What Remains, a documentary chronicling the Project Recover’s step-by-step process of searching for what one missing service member’s family characterized as “looking for the smallest needle in the largest haystack.”

Film crews captured the research team’s meticulous undertaking over a course of years, each arduous affair necessitating extensive digging through military action reports and the completion of both manned and unmanned dives of battle sites.

“While the search for a single crash site can require years of effort, the Project Recover team members are fueled by the sense of purpose that comes from identifying the remains of Americans who gave their lives in service, returning those remains to their proper home, and bringing closure to families who had nothing more than a picture on a mantle, vague memories passed down from prior generations, and unanswered questions,” the film’s synopsis reads.

The film is set for a Nov. 11 Veteran’s Day premiere at the American Film Institute’s annual festival in Los Angeles. It will then have a nationwide theatrical release in early December — to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor — thanks to support from global distribution marketing and rights management company Abramorama and the film studio Imperative Entertainment.

“Project Recover is a group of gifted professionals who use their talents and training to help fulfill our country’s promise to ‘leave no one behind,’” an Imperative Entertainment statement read.

To What Remains is the story of heroes from one generation striving to do right by heroes from prior generations, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to share it.”