Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An unbelievable 83,451 still missing March 23, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:21 AM
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A tribute to POWs and MIAs at the veterans' memorial in Northfield.

United States suspends recovery of troop remains in North Korea

I nearly skipped over the AP article on page A5 of my local daily newspaper. But then I paused, allowed my eyes to linger on the headline before reading the heartbreaking story.

Just as efforts to find American service members missing during the Korean War were set to resume, that mission has been suspended. The action comes on the heels of North Korea’s plans to rocket-launch a satellite in apparent violation of United Nations’ sanctions.

That’s the situation in a nutshell. Hopeful families who have been waiting for the return of their loved ones for more than 60 years still wait.

I cannot imagine. The wait. The not knowing. The pain in losing a child to war. How many mothers and fathers of Korean War veterans have died without bringing their soldier boys back home for proper burial? Many.

The statistics shocked me. I had no idea that 7,960 Americans are unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the Defense Prisoner of War-Missing Personnel Office, U.S. Department of Defense. Among the missing/unaccounted for are 146 Minnesotans. Click here to read that list.

But the numbers are even more staggering when you consider the totals for wars from World War II through the 1991 Gulf War. There are 83,451 Americans missing. That’s almost the entire population of Duluth. Most of the unaccounted for, 73,690, served during WW II.

Yet, until you begin thinking of the missing in terms of names, the totals seem merely overwhelming statistics that cannot be comprehended. So I went to the DPMO website and clicked on news releases. There I found what I was seeking—the names of soldiers gone missing in Korea and who, all these years later, have been identified through the use of modern-day forensics.

Just to explain, North Korea gave the U.S. 208 boxes of remains believed to be those of 200-400 U.S. servicemen, according to the DPMO.

Among the recently-identified remains are those of Army Cpl. William R. Sluss, 21, of Nickelsville, Va. He was captured by the Chinese and died as a result of malnutrition in the spring of 1951 while a POW in North Phyongan Province, North Korea.

The remains of Army Pfc. George A. Porter, 21, of Philadelphia, were also recently-identified. He was among more than 100 men taken prisoner by the Chinese during what became known as the “Hoengsong Massacre.”

And then there’s Sgt. Willie D. Hill, 20, of Catawba, N.C., whose infantry division was encircled by Chinese forces in November 1950 resulting in heavy losses, including that of Hill.

William. George. Willie.

They were young men lost to war, in a very literal sense.

I have never lost a loved one to death by war. But I have lost a loved one to war. My father fought as an infantryman on the front lines during the Korean War. He was wounded on Heartbreak Ridge and decades later, in May of 2000, was awarded a Purple Heart. He returned to Minnesota a changed man, unable to bury the horrific memories of buddies blown apart before his eyes, of enemies he’d killed.

Today he would have been identified as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. But back then, upon his military discharge in 1953, my dad was simply expected to return to civilian life as if nothing had changed for him personally.

April 3 marks nine years since my dad died at the age of 72. I am convinced that he would have lived longer had any type of counseling been available to him upon his return  to the farm fields of southwestern Minnesota.

Yet, despite my wish that he could have gotten help, I am thankful that he came home. In one piece. Alive.

Thousands of other American families do not have the comfort that is mine—to visit a cemetery knowing their loved one is buried here, on American soil.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

11 Responses to “An unbelievable 83,451 still missing”

  1. htrax107 Says:

    It is amazing the number of times we have sent our most valuable treasure to a far away land to fight for the lives of those people that are unable to defend liberty for themselves. Other cultures do not seem to value life and liberty as we Americans do. Sometimes it seems so senseless. But when you look at our own Civil War and see that nearly 700,000 of this country’s men died from the ravages of war and disease because we wanted to end the cruelty of slavery then that freedom makes more sense to us. War is hell, no matter where it is fought or who fights it.

    I, too, have had members from my family’s past who have been called to war and did not come back alive. It changes a family forever when the promise of that youth is never realized and is lost to all – not just the immediate family, but how much could have been accomplished by that youth if only they had had the chance. What a terrible loss for all of us. My prayers go out for all those families that never had a chance to know what happened to their loved one but are only left to their imaginations and are still waiting to hear after all these years.

    It is sad to realize that after all this time, not much has changed for mankind. In fact, some days it seems it may be getting worse.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your most heartfelt, insightful and personal comments. I agree that some days the situation seems to be getting worse.

  2. Alicia C. Says:

    I was born in the 70’s, so never really had any personal connections to the POW/MIA movement. All I really know is from my father, who is a veteran and is a huge supporter. But, even then, it can be hard to fully understand. This is one of those things that people (especially men) seem to have a hard time sharing personal stories about. Thanks for sharing this information – it makes it all too real for someone like me, who has been privileged enough to have grown up with just the Gulf War & Afghanistan.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks for your comments, Alicia. It is sometimes difficult for any of us to understand war. And I agree that men are prone not to share their stories of war. My father shared so little.

      I was a teen at the height of the Vietnam War, a most troubling time in our country. I even wore a POW (or maybe it was MIA) bracelet for a soldier. I need to look through boxes sometime to see if I still have it.

      My dad always felt, like those who served in Vietnam, that the American public never valued his service to country. There is a reason the Korean War is termed “The Forgotten War.”

  3. Yes, it’s heartbreaking. My dad was in Vietnam, but he flew rescue. He won a silver star for one of their missions. (Rescue wasn’t easy!) He is currently being treated for the affects of Agent Orange. No one who goes comes back the same…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I cannot imagine that “rescue” was easy, not at all. I just read something recently about Agent Orange and how it impacts the children of soldiers who were exposed to it. So be vigilant yourself.

  4. vicki Says:

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I cannot believe the huge number of the missing, and I, too, feel great empathy for the families left behind. I admire their courage to go on. Thanks again for your wonderful stories.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well said regarding the courage it takes to go on. I simply had no idea of the numbers and felt this was important information to share.

  5. hotlyspiced Says:

    That’s very sad about your father and I am so sorry his life was cut short. My grandfather was in the NZ Air Force and was sent to Britain where he flew planes over Germany. He was shot down over Belgium and survived but was later captured and spent four years in that POW camp made famous by the movie, The Great Escape. He also received not treatment for post traumatic stress on his return. You were just expected to put it behind you and move on with life and they tried, but they needed assistance and it wasn’t there. So wrong! xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I cannot imagine spending four years as a prisoner of war. Was your family aware of his whereabouts during that time? Did your grandfather ever talk about his time in captivity? This had to be a horrible, horrible experience that he carried with him throughout his life.


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