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Valley City native helps ID remains of veterans found after war

Katelyn Kjelland says it's rewarding to know that she helps families close chapters to a loved one's life.

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DNA analyst Katelyn Kjelland works at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab, where she helps reunite families with the remains of loved ones who were lost in wars around the world.
Special to The Forum
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VALLEY CITY, N.D. — We have all been moved by those incredible stories of World War II or Korean War veterans welcomed home by family after scientists confirm the identities of their recently discovered remains.

It's a long, tedious process, and a Valley City native is one of those analysts who helps bring closure for families across the country.

After studying forensics and biology at the University of North Dakota, Katelyn Kjelland now calls Dover, Delaware, and this impressive lab home. She is part of a team of scientists, anthropologists and analysts who have the honor and responsibility of identifying remains of veterans found anywhere in the world from any conflict.

"If we can get two extractions from a bone size that is smaller than your thumb, that is a treat when we can do that," said Kjelland, a DNA analyst. "The USS Oklahoma (Pearl Harbor) was a huge project we just wrapped up after 5 years in the lab. And those samples worked surprisingly well because they were soaked in oil and coated all the way through, and there was no bacteria in there."

It all takes place at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab, a Department of Defense program that has been incredibly busy because technology keeps changing — for the better.

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Getting DNA from even distant family members along with new software and technology has been a game changer.

"Since I have been there, the last 8 years, the technology has advanced exponentially, and there is more information you can get from fewer samples," Kjelland said.

Knowing she and her team are a part of helping families close chapters to a loved one's life is rewarding.

"We never see a name until that day we get a hit on our database and you realize all the work is worth it," Kjelland said.

In addition to scientists, special teams used in identification include dentists and historians. For more information on how family members can assist in getting a loved one identified, visit www.dpaa.mil/Portals/85/Family%20Members%20Guide%20-FINAL%20Dec%208.pdf .

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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