How One Texas A&M Student Is Working to Bring Missing in Action Soldiers HomeHistory PhD Student Tristan Krause Applies His Skills as a Researcher and Analyst for the Defense
POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA)
Tristan Krause’s favorite subject has always been history. He attributes that to his father’s influence. “When I was a kid,” Krause recalled, “my dad and I would hang out on the couch and watch these Walter Kronkite-narrated war documentaries. And I have this one really vivid memory of us watching Pearl Harbor on Christmas day when I was about five or six years old and my mom just being aghast.”
That childhood love of history has stuck with Krause over the years, withstanding the warnings of some who cautioned him against pursuing a humanities subject for a college major and career path – “Even my high school history teacher,” Krause said, “told me a career as a historian wouldn’t pay.”
Yet, even as a graduate student at Texas A&M, Krause is seeing a payoff – if not in the sense his high school history teacher meant. Working as the historian on teams commissioned by the U.S. military’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Krause is putting the skills and knowledge he’s acquiring in his academic training to work to help locate and bring home the remains of missing American soldiers lost in conflict.
Leaving No Soldiers Behind
According to records compiled by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), almost 82,000 American soldiers – from World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars – are still missing or unaccounted for. Finding and bringing these missing soldiers home is at the core of the military’s “no soldier left behind” code.
Yet it is also a daunting challenge, complicated by the passage of time. To take on that challenge, the DPAA assembles interdisciplinary teams of historians, archaeologists, geneticists, anthropologists, geologists and others, each of whom has expertise in a field essential to the process of finding and identifying missing soldiers. Historians, Krause says, play an important role.
Krause working in Germany, summer 2021 (Image Courtesy: Tristan Krause)
“The first step in finding someone,” Krause explained, “is to thoroughly understand the context for what is essentially their worst day ever, which requires poring over an inordinate amount of historical sources. That helps us pinpoint the site for the dig. Once we’re on site, the historian is there to identify artifacts and continue piecing the story together.”
It’s work Krause finds incredibly gratifying. “It’s a tangible, tactile form of history that’s fulfilling an important commitment,” he said.
Education and Public Service Roots
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 advanced degrees,” Krause explained. Their love of higher learning is joined with a belief that they should use their knowledge in service to others. They have passed on to me that sense of purpose – that you should do something with your life that is bigger than yourself. So, yeah, I find history interesting, but bar trivia is also interesting. I want to put what I’m learning to use.”
A picture of how history and service could intersect began to take shape for Krause in an undergraduate course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the process of recovering and identifying the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in World War II in New Guinea.
“It was an amazing course,” Krause said. “We learned that, in order to find these bodies, you have to understand the history of the campaigns. That’s how you find clues about where to find the bodies, give them a name, and bring them back to their families. I thought ‘Okay. This is what I want to do.’”
In the summer of 2018, after he graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Krause was fortunate enough to get his first opportunity to be part of a field research team. That team, part of the University of Wisconsin Missing in Action Recovery and Identification Project, traveled to France to find a missing soldier from WWII.
Krause in Belgium, summer 2022 (Image Courtesy: Tristan Krause)
After weeks of work, the team was able to locate and identify the remains of Walter “Buster” Stone, from Andalucia, Alabama, who died when he crashed his single-engine plane.
“It’s a really powerful feeling for the whole team when you succeed -- exciting, but somber at the same time. You just stop, take your hats off, and reflect on the fact that this guy has been lost for almost 75 years and you’ve found him. You figure he would want some company after all that time and you know his family is going to get some closure.”
Joining Texas A&M and Participating in the Humanities Coalition for Diverse Career Pathways Program
After being a part of that successful mission, Krause knew grad school was the next step in acquiring the knowledge and experience he would need to make a career out of the work he was so passionate about. He chose Texas A&M because of the university’s military ties and emphasis on public service. In researching graduate programs, Krause had also made a strong connection with history professor and mentor, Adam Seipp.
Krause in Germany, summer 2021 (Image Courtesy: Tristan Krause)
“I spoke to Dr. Seipp on the phone when I was researching grad schools. We clicked right away. He is familiar with the DPAA’s work and was an instant supporter. He explained to me that Texas A&M has a lot of ties to federal internships with the branches of the military and sends a lot of graduates to work at the DPAA. He’s also interested in creating public partnerships like Wisconsin’s Missing in Action Recovery and Identification Project for Texas A&M. It felt like the right place for me and it has worked out great. I’m a Seipp disciple,” Krause joked.
Seipp, who is now the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences as well as Professor of History, is equally impressed with Krause and sees the work he does as a potential track for other humanities graduate students. “Tristan’s field work demonstrates some of ways that the study of the humanities can make a valuable contribution to public service. His training as a historian and his work in the field complement each other,” Seipp said.
Seipp has long been interested in connecting humanities PhD graduates with careers outside academia. He oversees Texas A&M’s membership in The Humanities Coalition, a group of 17 universities devoted to finding innovative ways to expand career paths for humanities PhDs in government, non-profit, and public service. “Students who earn humanities PhDs are terrific researchers, communicators, and analysts,” Seipp said.
This past summer, Krause was able to travel and participate in two DPAA digs in Sicily and Belgium on funding provided by the Humanities Coalition, giving him more experience using his skills as a historian to help find missing soldiers and bring them home. “It’s both personally and professionally important that I’m able to work on these digs in the summer,” Krause said. “If I want to launch a career with the DPAA, I need to get as much experience as I can working with other specialists in the field.”
Krause also appreciates the efforts of The Humanities Coalition to connect students with opportunities in public service. “It's consistent with the idea that the university should be beneficial and serve the wider state,” he said.