Memorial Day was not designed as an occasion for mattress sales, which unfortunately seems to be the way we celebrate most national holidays in the United States lately.
This year I am calling attention to the late Cpl. Everett Heber Wade, my wife’s uncle. He was declared Missing in Action on November 30, 1950, a day my wife remembers because her grandfather called her mother with the news that post Thanksgiving week. Everett was “presumed dead” a little more than two years later, on December 31, 1953.
Everett was one of fifteen children, Ann’s mother’s brother. Only four of the siblings remain alive: Aunt Laura, Aunt Mary, Aunt Ruthie, and Aunt Ida May. Ann’s grandmother waited and hoped and prayed until the day she died to hear that her son had been found alive and was returning home. That never happened.
Ann is the eldest of her generation, and she is the only family member, aside from the aunties, who remembers Everett at all.
Last weekend my wife Ann and I went to Green Bay, WI, for a POW-MIA “briefing” by JPAC, under the auspices of the Department of Defense. JPAC is the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command. Its mission is to find and identify the remains of United States military personnel.
November 30, 1950, has the dubious distinction of being the date of the heaviest casualties for U.S. troops during the Korean Conflict - the worst since WW II. Nearly 800 soldiers - 781 to be precise - died. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir lasted for 17 days, and had over 3,000 casualties. There were reports that Everett was captured and marched toward North Korea, but that he died on the march and was buried along the route. Conflicting reports suggest that he died in battle, or that he died later. In any event, his remains were not recovered. At this point, that is JPAC’s mission, but, frankly, we have little hope.
It’s been been almost sixty years since the Korean Conflict went into a permanent cease fire, but the pain remains. When we entered the briefing room, we could feel the palpable sadness. At the briefing, the man next to me was a small child when his brother went missing, but he remembers and grieves him. Also at our table was a woman who was keeping the memory of her great uncle, a man she had never met, alive.
To date, JPAC has identified the remains of 170 Korean Conflict soldiers, mostly through DNA from survivors. In addition to having given a DNA sample, Ann is sending JPAC an envelope from a letter Everett sent her mother to help with DNA identification. Remains can also be identified through dental records and chest X-rays. The clavicle is practically as unique as a fingerprint.
There are still almost 8,000 American soldiers unaccounted for from the Korean Conflict. Many remains are buried at the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu, HI. But hundreds in that cemetery remain unidentified, and because of the method of burial, DNA was destroyed.
In addition to unidentified soldiers from the Korean Conflict, unidentified soldiers from World War II and the Viet Nam War remain missing, and at this point, are presumed dead.
Memorial Day was first celebrated in 1868 to honor the fallen hero soldiers from the Civil War, and the tradition has continued. There will be parades across the nation, and countless families will honor and mourn the loss of loved ones who died protecting freedom.
Cpl. Everett Heber Wade was just one of tens of thousands of soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom. We honor them all this Memorial Day.
The remains of a soldier from Everett’s company, one who may well have known Ann’s’ uncle, were returned to his family in time for Memorial Day last year. Read the story here.
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