MTSU Forensic Institute helps bring remains of Mexican-American War soldiers home


Photo courtesy of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History

One hundred seventy years ago, 11 American soldiers, believed to be a part of the Tennessee militia, died on foreign soil in the Mexican-American War, and, on Wednesday, they will finally return home with the help of MTSU’s Forensic Institute for Research and Education (FIRE).

The long-lost remains will be taken out of Mexico and brought to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where the Director of MTSU’s FIRE, Hugh Berryman, will work to uncover the identities of the fallen soldiers. Berryman and a group of historians and scientists have been working to transport the skeletons to the U.S. for nearly two years.

The bones of the U.S. soldiers were originally found in February 2011 by construction workers in Monterrey, Mexico.  Berryman’s team determined, based on their location, that the soldiers fought in the battle of Monterey in 1846.

Berryman’s original plan was to bring the bones to MTSU for analysis but due to army protocol, the remains will stay in Dover.

“It’s 170 years. That is a pretty tall order, and it will be absolutely noteworthy if any of them are identified,” Berryman said.

Berryman explained that during the identification process, the teeth of the dead soldiers can shed light on their origins. He said that water the men drank while their teeth were developing would have incorporated chemistry particles from the water into their teeth. This natural reaction can assist the researchers in discovering where the soldiers lived when they were children.

“Bone is very good at recording its own history. When you do that, it’s almost like you are interviewing these individuals,” Berryman said. “This is a very rare opportunity to find a window into the past and see what these individuals were like.”

Twenty-two scientists from around the country have expressed interest in identifying these soldiers.

According to a press release from Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais (R- 4th District), a resolution was released in 2015 attempting to have the Government of Mexico and the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs release the unidentified remains.

“This joint effort embodies the longstanding commitment to our men and women in uniform that the United States does not leave our fallen soldiers behind,” DesJarlais said in the press release.

Congressman Jim Cooper (D- 5th District),  worked alongside DesJarlais, the Mexican government and the team of MTSU researchers to expedite the release.

“Whether it’s a recent war or a war fought more than a century ago, Tennesseans never forget their bravest citizens. Our fallen veterans always need to come home,” Cooper said in his own press release on Tuesday.

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To contact News Editors Amanda Freuler or Brinley Hineman, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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