“‘Until They Are Home,’ has been one of the most sacred vows of the U.S. military… (but) U.S. remains in North Korea lost in limbo,” the Fox News reported a year earlier. According to the report, in between 1996 and 2005, joint U.S.-North Korea search teams recovered 229 sets of American remains, and Americans brought them back and buried them with military honors.
But Washington gave up the efforts, claiming that it’s not safe for the remain-searchers and that there was no guarantee in finding more remains. Then North Koreans began to construct 10 Hydroelectric Power-plants along the Chong-chon River 4 years ago, and the U.S. soldiers’ remain-recovery sites are forever lost. It’s not important that 14,000 people were mobilized to construct these hydroelectric plants or that the completion of this project was a big deal for the Hermit Kingdom’s 70th anniversary of the birth of the Workers’ Party, which took place on August 28, 1946.
But it is important for the U.S. veterans to know why their old battle comrades’ remains were neglected by the U.S. Military whose slogan “Leave no soldier behind” has been one of the most sacred vows. Had the efforts continued, 5,300 American GIs remains would have returned or will in the near future and would be buried along with their battle comrades in the national cemetery.
I, a Korean-American who lived in the U.S. more than 50 years, wonder how their families feel about their loved ones whose remains would never return to their beloved homeland of America?
Bob Wailes, a Lenexa, Kansas, resident, 69, lost his elder brother in one of those hellish POW camps in North Korea along the Yalu River in 1952, which the family didn’t know. Bob was six-years-old when he attended Ardean Wailes’ funeral service at St Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines in 1953, he wrote me in an email responding to my column about a Korean War veteran published in the Kansas City Star a year earlier.
“Ardean was the first Iowan to die in the Korean War on July, 31, 1951 at age 23, and my other brother, Eugene Wailes, then 19, went to Korea 8 months later to look for Ardean, but was severely wounded. I have an article from the Des Moines Register about them.”
The digitally scanned old newspaper clipping dated August 3, 1953, was blurry, yet with a magnifying glass, I was able to read it:
“Seeking Brother in Korea, D. M. Marine, 19, wounded:
“‘A Des Moines Marine who went to find his brother was wounded in some of the last fightings, it was revealed Sunday. Mrs. Billie Wailes said she has been notified that her youngest son Pfc. Eugene Wailes was wounded July 25, (1953) in action with the first Marine Division. “‘Enlisted a year ago, he requested duty in Korea,’ Mrs. Billie Wailes said. ‘He sailed for Korea in Dec. 1952. He didn’t have to go but he wanted to see if he could find his older brother,’ said Mrs. Wailes. Army Pfc. Andean R. Wailes, 23, was reported missing in action in Korea Feb. 4, 1951. He had enlisted in the army in 1949 and was stationed in Alaska before he was sent to Korea. Mrs. Wailes said she felt both her sons would come back safely. She described (them) as being able to take care of themselves.”
As a small boy, at his brother’s funeral service, Bob Wailes wondered whether his big brother was inside the casket covered with the American flag. As he grew older and understood what “war” was about, he began to learn more about the Korean War: how Korea was split at the end of WWII by the two powers–Russians in North Korea and Americans in the South; why 95,000 North Koreans launched a surprise attack across the 38th Parallel on a Sunday morning in June 1950, and why American troops rushed to South Korea followed by soldiers from 21 different nations calling themselves United Nations Forces.
As a young adult, particularly after his mother passed away in 1963 when he was 16, Bob Wailes looked for information about his oldest brother–how and where he died. From going through his mother’s keepsakes, he found what he was looking for– a newspaper clip about Gerold Young, a Des Moines resident, who had lived in the same POW camp where Ardean had before he died.
The article contained much information: how the two men–Ardean Wailes and Gerold Young– were captured in the early phase of the war about the same time, forced onto the death march that took about four months, including a 9-day march along an 110-mile snow-covered mountain terrain in deadly cold weather, during which hundreds of prisoners were shot to death for not walking fast enough. They landed on Camp 1, in early November, a dismal place along the frozen Yalu River, that had no heat, but served cracked corn mixed with barley for meals, which was suitable for cattle, not for humans.
The worst was re-education program in which the Chinese captor’s taught the American prisoners the virtues of communism. Ardean contracted dysentery, and in July 1951, he died in Gerold’s Young’s arms, weighing only 90 pounds, having lost 110 pounds since the day he was captured. He was one of 2,806 died in captivity out of 7,245 Americans were captured. But Gerold Young returned to Des Mines in the fall of 1953, when the prisoners of war were exchanged at the Bridge of No Return, along with 4,418 POWs.
According to the newspaper clip, he (Gerold Young) met with Mrs. Wailes after his release and delivered her Ardean’s humble possessions–his dog tag and a small hand knife.
Earlier in 2016, while searching Ancestry.com, Bob’s wife Sue came across an army document containing grave marker information, and a hand-written note on the back that read that the Purple Heart for Ardean Wailes had never been delivered to Mrs. Wailes. Encouraged, Bob searched further and found a record that his other brother Eugene had received the Purple Heart for his injuries. Using the contact number from the website, Bob contacted Military Order of Purple Heart, and through it, he was able to connect with the Department of Defense in Washington, DC.
A letter arrived shortly, naming all the medals that were awarded to Ardean, and in July 2016, a packet arrived in his mailbox. Inside the package were a Cold War Certificate, Purple Heart, POW Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal (with a double Bronze Star attachment), United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea-Korean War service Medal, including buttons, awards, and decorations from the Department of the US Amy, including awards and decorations from the department of the US Army.
When asked how he felt, Bob said, “This is certainly not the ending we wanted, but knowing that my brother got recognized for his ultimate sacrifice and that we have the medals for his service to our country helps us deal with our loss.”
But what about the rest of the brothers, sisters, sons and daughters of those perished in the long ago war and buried in unmarked graves in North Korea?