It was 1956. The war had been over for 3 years and family members had been asked not to discuss their still missing loved ones fate.. Why? Because secretly our Government knew a lot more than they were telling, and they couldn’t afford for the truth to come out!
Not only had our Government left over a thousand men behind alive in Communist prison camps, they also had done a poor job of identifying remains and shipping the wrong bodies home! The mistakes needed to go somewhere, so they buried them as unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punch Bowl) in Hawaii.
A few years ago, I acquired the forensic files on the unidentified remains, but more recently someone sent me the spreadsheet of the grave sites and their related unidentified X-files. All of a sudden, I had the potential to associate logical missing men with actual grave sites!! So here are some of my early findings.
Of the 848 Korean War unidentified remains in the Punch Bowl cemetery, more than half, 433, came through Operation Glory, an exchange of remains after the war. These remains arrived typically with names and service numbers attached to the box by the North Koreans. They were known Americans who died in prison camps. After double checking by the forensic team, these 433 were challenged and excluded from being the name on the casket, and buried as unknowns.
Even if the North Koreans accidentally mixed up the bodies, they somehow came across the name and service number somehow, so anyone with common sense would surmise that these names should be in the POW column, yet 35 of those excluded from the bodies remain MIA and KIA on DPAA’s lists.
Lewis Brickell was an MIA, even though Operation Glory remains N-14889 arrived in 1954 with his name on it. Forensics excluded him, so the family was never told. But, in 1999, they disinterred that same remains from grave 928, and miraculously confirmed it as . . . yes you guessed it . . . Lewis Brickell. That story can be repeated over and over again for William Butz, Richard Isbell, Anthony Massey, Arnold Olson, Frank Sandoval, Donald Walker, John Ward, Carl West . . . . and probably countless others. This same scenario occurs for remains recovered from the battlefields where men were identified, then excluded and families never told, then confirmed 60 years later. I’m sure the families of Nehemiah Butler, Richard Clapp, Norman Dufresne, James Constant, Bernard Fisher, Will Giovanniello, Lee Henry, Everett Johnson, Donald Matney, Robert Mitchell, James Mullins, Donald Skeens, Luis Torres, John Ward, Carl West, and Edris Viers, . . . would have jumped at the chance to help confirm or exclude the remains 60 years earlier.
So, back to shipping wrong bodies home. Grave 807 contains X-1404 unidentified remains, but it hasn’t always been that way. It was originally shipped home as Eugene Molinar . . . and only one person objected . . . Eugene, who came back alive. Only one missing person now actually fits the forensic criteria, Robert D Miller, but our government sees no need to disinter him.
Commonly, I find comments like “Operation Glory originally labeled remains N-14142 as ‘Reginal Smith’, but his previously identified(?) remains were already returned to his family.” This makes one wonder if the previous identification was accurate. If not, the cemetery is full of mistakes. At least 28 remains share this comment.
Louis Mutta was driving a jeep when it was hit and exploded. His fellow servicemen put him in an abandoned building with the intent to recover him after the incoming attack. The building burned, but there was only one body inside, obviously Mutta. Yet our government wouldn’t assume the obvious, and then buried him as unknown in grave 356. It’s about time to get him back to his family.
When evidence reduces candidacy down to one person, there should be no excuse to procrastinate. Yet in 116 cases, only one person is logical and they continue their 60 year long wait for someone to care!
If you have a relative missing from the Korean War, please email me at email@example.com or call 770-565-4420.
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.