ARLINGTON, VA. — Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Paul Seagone turned 94 today and, in a holistic sense, was among his closest friends to celebrate.
Seagone is one of more than 7,000 U.S. service personnel missing from the Korean conflict. He was lost on June 1, 1951. On Thursday, his daughter Gloria joined more than 700 relatives, friends, and supporters of those missing from that conflict to hear updates on the progress of recovering remains and share information.
They also gathered as many do every year, to reinforce their collective determination to keep hope alive that bodies or remains of their loved ones will be found and returned. And, as the brothers, nieces, spouses, children of the lost soldiers age out from the world, they work to ensure the next generation keeps the quest strong and forward moving.
“Happy birthday Daddy,” Gloria said, one of many who rose and spoke during 90 minutes of remembrance Thursday morning. She told the gathering she had gone to the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, looked through big field glasses, and “for the first time in my life I got to say hello Daddy.”
Gregory Major. Ernest Curtis Robertson. Charles Libscomb. James Fred Johnson. Charles Herbert. The names flowed from those who rose to speak.
At first, only a few raised hands to speak. Then a trickle, and then non-stop. Words shared, tears flowed, the boxes of tissues placed on each table replaced again and again. They rose to tell of office buildings and roadways named after their missing relatives and friends. They rose to tell on how they remain relentless in seeking information and a return of remains and the frustration of having no male descendants to provide DNA samples. And they rose to voice fears that when they die no one will carry on the effort.
“The loss and void to you, in your heart and mind, is a void we cannot grasp,” Kelly McKeague, director of the Defense POW/MIA Account Agency, told those attending on Thursday. “Answers need to be provided.”
Those attending the annual information session, one of several DPAA holds each year, were buoyed by last week’s return of 55 transfer cases from North Korea containing remains of U.S. service personnel. “This is the first step of what we hope will be many,” McKeague said.
According to DPAA, of the more than 7,800 U.S. service personnel unaccounted for from the Korean War, around 5,300 of those soldiers were lost in North Korea.
Two brothers attending the session — Charles McDaniel Jr. and Larry McDaniel — received their father’s dog tag at the event; the dog tag as returned along with the remains.
“This is my father,” Charles McDaniel Jr. said as he turned the dog tag over in his hands. He provided a DNA swab test to DPAA during the conference to help determine if their father’s remains are in the 55 cases now being studied.
Charles Anderson. Nick Theodora. Claude Battie. Daniel William Garriaty. Maynard Sorenson. All ranks, from all over the nation, all ages, all faint memories.
“Every time I meet a Korean War veteran, I think that could be my brother,” Daryl Isley told the gathering. His brother was lost in a battle in an area that is now the DMZ, which is good and bad news — good news, in that land has not been changed much from the war, bad in that it is likely to be one of the last areas searched for remains.
“They call is the forgotten war,” one speaker said, referring to the Korean conflict. “But the people in this room won’t forget.”