Families remember MIA

Portland event lets loved ones hear, share details of those lost in service

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter




Defense Department missing personnel report, with official homes of record and date of incident for service personnel from the Vancouver area at the time of their service:

• Army Pfc. Robert D. Quatier, Clark County (Korea, July 16, 1950).

• Army Pfc. William R. Keenan, Clark County (Korea, Nov. 1, 1950).

• Marine Cpl. Neil R. Osterberg, La Center (Korea, Nov. 28, 1950).

• Army Pfc. William R. Butz, Clark County (Korea, Dec. 12, 1950).

• Air Force E6 Melvin A. Holland, Woodland (Vietnam, March 11, 1968).

• Navy E4 Philip D. Sundby, Camas (Cold War, April 15, 1969).

PORTLAND — The stories spanned decades of conflict in different areas of the globe. Gwen Davis and Dick Kim talked about their missing brothers; Ann Holland remembered her lost husband.

Colleen Stevens had a scrapbook documenting her dad's service in two wars.

Some represented their uncles, and an 89-year-old woman was there on behalf of her son.

"Every story is different, but they're basically the same," Holland said. "We're waiting for them to bring somebody home."

They were among the participants Saturday when the Defense Department invited families of 95 missing service personnel to an event in Portland.

The session, hosted by the Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, included private briefings for some families. Thirty-five families were scheduled to contribute DNA samples that might be helpful in identifying remains.

There also was an opportunity to share stories. It was a series of emotional tributes to soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who served decades ago … but still haven't come back.

Holland's husband, Mel, was part of an elite Air Force communications team helicoptered onto a 5,000-foot-high peak in Laos during the Vietnam War. They guided B-52 bombers toward their targets.

The peak was supposed to be safe from attack, but enemy forces climbed it and overran the camp on March 11, 1968.

"Mel was lost, along with 10 others," Holland said. "Two sets of remains have been recovered."

The Woodland woman still wonders whether her husband — who would have been a valuable interrogation target — wound up in Russian hands.

Davis' brother Harley Hall isn't on the MIA list, but she doesn't consider his case closed. The Navy fighter pilot was shot down on Jan. 27, 1973, just before the end of hostilities in Vietnam. He was declared dead on the basis of three teeth that were recovered. She's not convinced.

"Two have extraction marks," the Vancouver woman said. "All three show evidence of periodontal disease" — a condition unlikely in a Navy officer but a logical result of life in a POW camp.

"We've maintained that Harley was taken to Russia," she said.

Dick Kim, a Korean War veteran himself, lost his brother in the conflict. Chan Jay Park Kim was declared dead in 1951 although his remains were never found.

"I'm still waiting and hoping for my brother," said Kim, a Vancouver resident who is active in local veterans' groups.

From D-Day to Korea

Many families brought photographs of their missing servicemen. Colleen Stevens, who was there with several family members, opened a scrapbook to review the military career of her father, Capt. John A. McAllaster.

Her dad flew 35 missions as a B-17 crewman during World War II, said Stevens, a 1966 Hudson's Bay graduate who now lives in Portland.

Stevens turned to a page listing her dad's WWII bombing missions and pointed to June 6, 1944, with the notation "Invasion." He was part of D-Day.

He was back in uniform during the Korean War, and his B-26 bomber was lost on April 4, 1952.

"I had just turned 4. My mom was devastated," Stevens said.

The Defense Department's MIA effort does have its success stories.

"We identify approximately 80 to 90 formerly missing service members annually," said Air Force Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, with the POW/Missing Personnel Office.

Snapshot was big break

Sometimes they get a break, said Montague Winfield, a retired major general who heads the POW/Missing Personnel Office.

Investigators have interviewed Korean veterans to get a sense of what happened in the chaotic fighting. One veteran had a snapshot that showed dead GIs on the ground. They were able to match up the terrain shown in the snapshot with the actual battlefield, Winfield said.

When they were on the scene, "A farmer walked up and said the area has a mass grave."

Eleven sets of remains were recovered, and seven servicemen have been identified, Winfield said.

So, it can take a while … and that's fine with the family of Capt. McAllaster, who was aboard the B-26 when it went down during the Korean War.

"Someday, that plane will be found," said Kathy Stevens, his granddaughter. "And when that happens, someone from the family will be here to welcome him home."