by Tom Finkel
There are fourteen men from Missouri whom members of the AMVETS Post 55 in Bel-Ridge are trying to bring home. Each of the men died or was presumed dead at least 37 years ago. They were killed in action, or died in prison camps in Korea, were shot down over Vietnam or lost at sea in World War II. Their remains were not recovered, but now the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Oahu, Hawaii, is trying to bring their open cases to a close. Remains -- a tooth, a bone or maybe a personal item -- have been linked to the area where the soldier went missing, and now JPAC is trying to confirm the identity.
If you’ve never heard of JPAC, its work is interesting, if grim. The joint military agency houses the Central Identification Laboratory, which according to JPAC, is the largest forensic anthropology lab in the world. Teams of historical researchers and field investigators try to connect unaccounted-for soldiers to specific sites. Then field specialists go out and bring back whatever remains they can find. Sometimes governments, such as North Korea’s, hand over remains from old prison camps, leaving JPAC to sort them out. “It could be a big box of bones,” says Lt. Col. Mark Brown, director of public affairs.
When JPAC makes a positive ID, Kessler explains, that soldier’s next of kin is notified and the remains are brought back for a full military funeral. In light of the current war in Iraq, Kessler says, “It’s comforting to know, if they don’t come back, twenty years from now, we will keep looking. A lot of people don’t know JPAC exists. A lot of people don’t know the search goes on.”
Actually, the war in Iraq is not generating the same staggering number of cases as wars of old. Although U.S. military fatalities in Iraq number 3,940, only four men are what the military now calls “missing/captured.” The Wall Street Journal ran a page-one feature about their families’ lonesome vigils on Saturday.
Kessler learned about JPAC’s stateside searches at an AMVETS convention in Greensboro, North Carolina, last August. That’s where she met Colonel Brown, who spoke about a successful mission in Iowa. One of the positive matches was his father’s cousin, a World War II bomber pilot named Don Hess. “They dug up his site. We went out, and we found his family,” Brown says. “He had a sister who’d just kind of dropped off the face of the earth. We found her in Palo Alto, California, through a friend from Iowa and some relatives.”
The process is slow. JPAC says it recovers about six MIAs a month, for a grand total of 1,300. What’s left: 78,000 from World War II (35,000 of whom are deemed recoverable); 8,100 from the Korean War; 1,800 from the Vietnam War; 120 from the Cold War; and one lone case from the Gulf War.
While JPAC makes much of its overseas field work, veteran war correspondent and Korean War historian Laurence Jolidon pointed out that JPAC had plenty to do on U.S. soil. (Here’s a link to his article about the unidentified soldiers buried at the “Punchbowl” memorial in Honolulu. Also note that the list of names associated with the Punchbowl memorial includes St. Louisans Wilbert Smiley Ford and Danny J. Handley.)
Now for the names, from JPAC’s online database -- if you think you have information about relatives, call Conklin at 314-625-5954, or Post 55 at 314-423-5557:
Korea (biographical information compiled by the Korean War Project, which keeps its searchable database at Koreanwar.org.) • Army Private First Class William Marion Barnard of Jasper County, taken prisoner, February 12, 1951 near Hoengsong • Army Private First Class Wardell Alonzo Bell of St. Louis County, missing in action, December 1, 1950 near Kunu-Ri • Army Corporal Lee Roy Cawley of Buchanan County, missing in action, February 13, 1951 near Hoengsong • Army Sergeant Wilbert Smiley Ford of St. Louis, taken prisoner, November 26, 1950 near Kujang • Army Private First Class Danny J. Handley of St. Louis, taken prisoner, November 27, 1950, near Pyoktong • Marine Sergeant Elton Thomas Henry of St. Louis, killed in action, November 30, 1950 near Yudam-Ni • Army Corporal James Nolan Larkin of Kirkwood, taken prisoner, February 12, 1951 near Hoengsong • Army Sergeant First Class Albert Louis Price of Ripley County, taken prisoner, November 28, 1950 near Kujang • Army Corporal Leonard Scott, Jr., of St. Louis, missing in action, December 1, 1950 near Kunu-Ri • Marine Private James Martin Wilson of Billings, missing in action, October 2, 1952 • Army Corporal James Hershel Yeley, of Butler County, taken prisoner, December 1, 1950 near Kunu-Ri
Southeast Asia • Army Staff Sergeant Floyd Dean Caldwell, was riding in a plane shot down over South Vietnam on December 14, 1971
Pacific Ocean • Herbert J. Hoard of Pevely was aboard the USS Oklahoma on December 7, 1941.
Europe • Charles W. Estes was in an Army Air Corps bomber group and died December 23, 1944 in Belgium.