November 11 is a day to remember all who have served their country – those who died in combat, those who died from other causes, and those who are still with us today.
Sunlit poppy in remembrance (Flickr Creative Commons/Brian Smithson (Old Geordie))
This Veterans Day, while we honor each and every man and woman who has served this country since its birth, we're offering a special salute to the Missing in Action.
Not long ago we came across the obituary for Joseph William "J.W." Fontenot. The Korean War soldier was only 20 years old when he was killed, more than six decades ago, after being captured by the enemy. Only recently were his remains found and identified. In his October 2012 obituary, his family graciously thanked all of the branches of our Armed Forces and anyone who assisted in their untiring search and discovery of our brother, and they encouraged other families of MIA soldiers to continue to pray that their loved ones missing in action will come home.
It's hard to imagine the agony a family goes through while awaiting word of their loved one who is fighting in a war… and it's harder still to fathom how it must feel when that word never comes. Fontenot's immediate family had all died by the time his remains were identified, with only descendants left to gratefully lay him to rest. But there's a closure that comes with the ability to bury a loved one – or publish their obituary – even so many years after the fact. That shows in some of the other obituaries we've received for MIA soldiers who were finally found, years later.
Staff Sgt. Samuel E. Hewitt was declared Missing in Action in 1966, during the Vietnam War, and was presumed dead in 1975. Thirty-five years later, dental records helped identify his body, and his mother and sister were able to conduct a memorial service and bury him with full military honors.
Pfc. James C. Mullins was also reported Missing in Action during the Korean War. Three years after he went missing, he was officially presumed dead, but in was only in 2012 that his remains were identified. Mullins was posthumously given the Purple Heart and several other decorations. He is survived by a brother.
Corporal Clarence H. "Bud" Huff Jr. was reported Killed in Action during the Korean War, but his body was never recovered until a 2012 effort identified him as one of several unknown servicemen who were laid to rest in Hawaii in 1956. Five surviving siblings are able to thank modern technology for bringing their brother home at last.
Technology also helped modern scientists identify Cpl. Pryor Gobble, who was just 18 years old when he was listed as Missing in Action in 1950. His remains were returned to the U.S. by North Korea in 1994, and were only identified in 2012 by matching his mitochondrial DNA to that of his surviving brother and sister.
Capt. James Graff was listed as Missing in Action during the Vietnam War when his plane failed to return to base. His obituary goes into fascinating detail about the process authorities went through to use DNA, along with dental and skeletal remains and a thumbprint, to identify his body. The obituary also makes it clear how grateful his surviving daughters were for the chance to lay their father to rest at M.J. Dolly Cooper Veterans Cemetery.
For every MIA service member whose remains have been recovered, there are many who are still missing. Our hope this Veterans Day is that one day soon, all the families of the missing can receive closure.
Written by Linnea Crowther