The Korean War has been over for 66 years, yet the families of the 7,667 still missing men have yet to get answers to their most obvious questions:
Did the MIAs actually die on the battlefield or were they captured and suffered in POW camps until they died of starvation? If they died on the battlefield, were their remains collected and buried nearby? If remains couldn’t be identified, what happened to them?
What is really surprising is that most of our questions already have answers! Yes, the demise of most of the still missing men can be answered by reading through thousands of documents at the National Archives in College Park MD. The only problem is . . . no one is committed enough to spend that much time reading old documents.
From my 25 years of research . . . of the nearly 4,000 so-called MIAs, at least 156 are known to have died on the battlefield . . . and more than 910 are known to have been POWs . . . and the families were never told! Of the 1730 still unaccounted-for supposed KIAs, more than 238 were known to have been POWs . . . and their families were never told as well!
So, as a family member, what should you be doing to learn more about your missing loved-one??
First, gather up all the info you already have . . . pictures, dental records, details on any prior injuries like traffic accidents or sports injuries, finger prints if he was ever arrested, time period in Korean, names of fellow soldiers or crew members, estimated height, facial structural appearance (Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid), Age when missing.
If you have ever attended a DPAA meeting, study the summary report you were given. Note the field search case number or air loss case number at the end of the first paragraph. If he was MIA or KIA, note the area where he was last known to be in. If an airman, note the area where his plane went down. If known or suspected a POW, note the prison camp where he was taken. Note the map attached to the summary. Study it carefully and compare to a current google map.
Next, call your casualty office: Army 800-892-2490, Air Force 800-531-5501, Marines 800-847-1597, Navy 800-443-9298
Provide your loved-one’s name and service number. Ask if any other family members have been in contact? Ask which one of you is the primary next-of-kin? Request your loved-one’s IDPF file and all other info available. Request the full field search case or full air loss case report. Request his unit’s daily records beginning two days before his loss date and ending two weeks later.
Provide your case officer with all of the info you gathered: previous injuries, photos with a smile, dental records, etc.
Request a report with all of the men who went missing from his unit from the day before until the day after his supposed loss date. Loss dates are often the day after the incident, because he didn’t show up for role-call. If the battle was three days long, he may have been actually lost even earlier.
Once you get the report, note those who were captured and which of those men returned alive after the war. Then request their debriefing reports which identify other men also captured but often also men who died on the battlefield. Sometimes, they mention someone like “Jones” from Montana . . . which often goes unnoticed . . . but would be very useful to that family!
I know you’re thinking that all of this has already been done . . . over and over again . . . and you probably won’t get any further with all of this effort.
Recently, I’ve been working the case of Cal Charles William Cook, who DPAA claims was “Killed-in-Action” on 8/8/1950. In studying his case, I noted that he was among 9 men killed that day from 9th regiment. All were buried together locally and later exhumed and sent home to their families, yet Cook was the only remains that did not get sent home.
Other units were also fighting in that area and a number of them were captured, marched north to Seoul, and wound up in Moo Hak Girl’s school, where their names were written on chalkboards before they were moved on Pyongyang in September 1950.
Ironically, the name “Cook” showed up on this chalkboard. Yes, this is a common name, but this was early in the war . . . . and only one “Cook” went missing early enough to show up on this board.
Most cases are this simple to enlighten. So. I urge you to get involved. Ask your casualty officer to help you get in touch with other family members whose loved-ones were lost at the same time from the same unit. You will be flabbergasted at what you learn.
I have details to share on more than 4,035 individual cases (maybe yours) and can help you get started on your mission.
John Zimmerlee is an accomplished researcher on the Korean War POW/MIA issue. He is founder and executive director of the Korean War POW/MIA Network. John's father, Capt. John Zimmerlee, Jr., is missing-in-action.