July 23, 2014  

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History Student’s Fellowship to Focus on Missing American Soldiers

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Colin Colbourn
Colin Colbourn at the top of Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima.

A history graduate student at The University of Southern Mississippi will soon be joining an elite team of researchers as they attempt to learn more about the fate of American soldiers from World War II missing in action in the South Pacific since the war ended in 1945.

Colin Colbourn, an advanced Ph.D. student, accepted an Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education Fellowship with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), located at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska.  Colbourn will join two other historians; only three researchers in the entire country were extended these fellowships, which could last as long as five years. 

The opportunity to help families find closure after decades of not knowing what became of their loved one is an honor for Colbourn. 

“This fellowship comes with both an historical and emotional element,” said Colbourn.

“I hope to help in the process of identifyingpeople’s family members who have been missing for years.  This is when history comes alive and truly affects people.”

Colbourn will work as a historical researcher, uncovering evidence about soldiers lost in the South Pacific during World War II, specifically searching for records that could identify soldiers missing in action and unknown soldiers. As late as 2013, the armed forces are still working to identify the bodies of some soldiers killed from 1941 to 1945 and to uncover the fate of those MIA.

The Elkhart, Indiana native first came into contact with JPAC while on a 2012 trip to Vietnam when he wrote for Leatherneck, a Marine Corps magazine. The name struck a chord with him when he later heard about the fellowship in Nebraska.

Colbourn says Southern Miss has influenced his success, and specifically credits the Department of History’s Center for the Study of War and Society.

“The center has produced many nationally and internationally known scholars, and my professors have propelled me to places I never thought I’d go.  I am very excited as this fellowship marks a whole new stage of my life. It will take my career even further,” said Colbourn.

Dr. Andrew Wiest, a University Distinguished Professor of History and the director of the Center for War and Society, recently spoke of the importance of Colbourn’s fellowship, saying that the research is crucial and necessary.

“It is a huge task, and one that very much needs to be done in order to honor our fallen heroes of past wars,” said Wiest.

Colbourn will begin his fellowship at the new JPAC Identification Laboratory in Nebraska in May of this year.

Dr. Phyllis Jestice, professor and chair of the Southern Miss Department of History, is also pleased with Colbourn’s success.

“The fellowship is a spectacular start to what is a very promising career,” said Jestice.  “It is a tribute to Colin's deep knowledge and understanding of the war in the Pacific and a credit to his skills as a research scholar. We're very proud of him.”

Colbourn has a string of successes behind him, including being awarded the Lemuel C. Shepherd United States Marine Corps Dissertation Fellowship, the only such fellowship awarded in the entire country for 2012. 

For information about the Southern Miss Department of History, online visit www.usm.edu/history.