As the nation honors its heroes on Veterans Day, the Ph.D. Student Tristan Krause is preparing for a trip to Germany. Krause works as a historian on teams contracted by the US military’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to help locate and bring home the remains of missing American soldiers lost in the conflict .
According to Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) records, nearly 82,000 American servicemen — from World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars — are still missing or missing. Finding these missing soldiers and bringing them home is at the heart of the military code of “No Soldier Left Behind.”
However, it’s also a daunting challenge made more difficult by the passage of time. To meet this challenge, the DPAA assembles interdisciplinary teams of historians, archaeologists, geneticists, anthropologists, geologists and others, each with expertise in a field essential to the process of finding and identifying missing soldiers. Historians, says Krause, play an important role.
“The first step in finding someone,” Krause said, “is to thoroughly understand the context for what is essentially their worst day ever, which requires studying an inordinate amount of historical sources.” This will help us locate the site for the excavation. Once we are on site, the historian is there to identify artifacts and further piece the story together.”
It’s a job Krause finds incredibly satisfying. “It’s a tangible, tactile form of history that fulfills an important obligation,” he said.
Last summer, Krause was able to travel and take part in two DPAA digs in Sicily and Belgium, using his skills as a historian to find missing soldiers and bring them home. “It’s important, both personally and professionally, that I can work on these digs over the summer,” Krause said. “If I want to start a career at DPAA, I need to gain as much experience as possible working with other specialists in the field.”
Education and roots of public service
Krause grew up in Wisconsin. His parents—his mother, an ecologist for the United States Forest Service and his father a biologist for the state of Wisconsin—influenced his view that learning and service go hand in hand.
“My parents have college degrees,” Krause said. “Their love of higher education is combined with the belief that they should put their knowledge at the service of others. You gave me that sense of purpose – that you should make something of your life that is bigger than you.”
A picture of how history and service might intersect emerged for Krause during an undergraduate course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the process of recovering and identifying the remains of US soldiers killed in New Guinea during World War II.
“We learned that to find these bodies, you have to understand the history of the campaigns,” Krause said. “That’s how you find clues as to where to find the bodies, give them a name, and bring them back to their families. I thought ‘okay. That’s what I want to do.’”
Krause got his first opportunity to be part of a field research team traveling to France to find a missing World War II soldier.
After weeks of work, the team was able to locate and identify the remains of Walter “Buster” Stone of Andalucia, Alabama, who died when his single-engine plane crashed.
“It’s a really strong feeling for the whole team when you’re successful – exciting but also sad,” said Krause. “You just stop, take off your hat and think that this guy has been missing for almost 75 years and you found him. You think he’d want some company after all this time, and you know his family is about to graduate.
Joined Texas A&M
After being part of this successful mission, Krause knew that graduate school was the next step in gaining the knowledge and experience he needed to turn the work he was so passionate about into a career. He chose Texas A&M because of the university’s military connections and emphasis on public service. Researching graduate programs, Krause had also formed a close connection with history professor and mentor Adam Seipp.
“I have with Dr. Seipp on the phone when I was researching graduate schools,” said Krause. “We clicked straight away. He is familiar with the work of the DPAA and immediately supported it. He explained to me that Texas A&M has many ties to federal internships in the branches of the military and sends many graduates to work at the DPAA. It felt like the right place for me and it worked out great.”
Seipp, who is now Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of History, is equally impressed by Krause and sees the work he is doing as a potential avenue for other humanities graduate students.
“Tristan’s field research highlights some ways that studying humanities can make a valuable contribution to public service,” Seipp said. “His training as a historian and his work in the field complement each other.”
Seipp has long been interested in doing humanities Ph.D. Graduates with careers outside of academia. He oversees Texas A&M’s membership in The Humanities Coalition, a group of 17 universities dedicated to finding innovative ways to expand career paths for PhD humanities scholars in government, nonprofits, and the public sector. The coalition funded Krause’s trip to Sicily and Belgium.
“Students pursuing PhDs in humanities are great researchers, communicators, and analysts,” Seipp said.
Krause also appreciates the Humanities Coalition’s efforts to connect students with public service opportunities. “This is consistent with the idea that the university should be beneficial and serve the state as a whole,” he said.