POW/MIA UPDATE

 

April 2021 Report

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun (via Defense.gov)

By Katie Lange, DOD News 

Army Chaplain Emil Kapaun inspired his men during the Korean War with calm, courageous leadership, instilling in his fellow prisoners of war a desire to stay strong — even after he no longer could. His actions eventually earned him the nation's highest military honor, as well as a potential path to sainthood.

Kapaun was born April 20, 1916, in rural Pilsen, Kansas. He and his brother, Eugene, learned how to do chores and repair things around the family farm — a skill that would later serve Kapaun well.

After high school, Kapaun studied at Conception College in Conception, Missouri, before starting at Kenrick Seminary (now Kenrick-Glennon Seminary) in St. Louis. Four years later, in June 1940, he was ordained as a priest.

Kapaun was serving as an auxiliary chaplain at Herington Air Base, Kansas, in 1944 when he noticed the need for faith-based leaders in the military. He felt compelled to join, so, on July 12, 1944, he became an Army chaplain, serving for the rest of World War II in the China-Burma-India theater.

When he returned to the U.S. in 1946, Kapaun separated from the Army to earn his master's degree in education from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. However, he rejoined the Chaplain Corps in 1948 as a captain. Two years later, the war in Korea broke out, so he was deployed in July 1950 with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.

Calm Among Chaos

By the fall of 1950, Kapaun's battalion had pushed depleted North Korean soldiers back to Unsan, an area in northwestern North Korea near the Chinese border. It was assumed the war would soon be over since things were looking good for the U.S. and its South Korean allies. But on Nov. 1, 1950, the tide turned when Chinese Communist forces launched a vicious attack.

During the fight, Kapaun calmly walked through the battle zone, offering comfort and medical aid to the injured and helping to pull men out of an area considered no-man's land. The Americans were able to repel the assault initially, but by nighttime, they were surrounded and forced to find safety in foxholes and behind bunkers. By midnight, the battalion was ordered to evacuate before the Chinese blocked all escape routes.

Those who were injured were trapped, and Kapaun chose to stay behind with them, despite knowing he would likely face capture or death. He continued to make his rounds as the hand-to-hand combat grew closer. When he noticed an injured Chinese officer near his men, he pleaded with the officer to negotiate their safe surrender. It worked, and most of the men were spared.

As Kapaun was led away, he saw another Chinese soldier preparing to shoot a wounded soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Herbert A. Miller. Without concern for himself, Kapaun pushed that enemy soldier aside, picked up Miller and started to carry him away.

Stunned, the enemy soldier allowed it. Kapaun ended up carrying Miller for miles as they incessantly marched toward the unknown. The chaplain helped others who struggled, too, begging them to not give up so they wouldn't be shot.

After being marched from village to village with little food or water, Kapaun and his men ended up at a POW camp in Pyoktong on the bank of the Yalu River.

"I don't know the name of that valley, but we called it the Kapaun Valley because that is where Father Kapaun instilled in us a will to live," Korean War POW Mike Dowe said in 2013.

Never Losing Hope

While in captivity, Kapaun remained a trusted leader. His courage inspired prisoners of all faiths to survive the camp’s hellish conditions and the frigid temperatures, resist enemy indoctrination, and keep hope alive. He helped the wounded and often sneaked out at night to steal food for the prisoners.

"He was the best food thief we had," Army Capt. Joseph O'Connor, a fellow POW, told The Corpus Christi Caller-Times after his repatriation in 1953. "He always used to say a prayer to St. Dismas [the penitent thief] before he went out scrounging. Once, he came back with a sack of potatoes. How he got it I'll never know — it must have weighed 100 pounds."

By spring, however, the camp's squalid conditions and inhumane punishments had taken their toll. Kapaun grew seriously ill and malnourished, but he managed to hold one last Easter Mass for the prisoners in late March. Shortly after that, he was transferred to an old pagoda that the Chinese called a hospital. It was unheated and filthy, and it was reported that its prisoners weren’t given food or medical attention. Kapaun died there on May 23, 1951. He was 35.

Revered By All

In August 1951, Kapaun was honored with the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second highest medal for valor, while he was still listed as missing in action. Officials learned of his death when his fellow POWs were released after the armistice was signed in 1953.

For decades, Kapaun's comrades lobbied Congress to get his Distinguished Service Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor. On April 11, 2013, that request was granted. President Barack Obama lauded the chaplain's service during a While House ceremony.

"[Kapaun was] an American soldier who didn't fire a gun but who wielded the mightiest weapon of all — the love for his brothers — so pure that he was willing to die so they might live," Obama said.

The chaplain's nephew, Ray Kapaun, received the medal on his behalf. Several family members and Korean War vets who served with Kapaun joined for the celebration.

What's Lost Is Now Found

With no remains to bury, Kapaun's family set up a memorial to him at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Cemetery in his hometown. Earlier this month, however, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced it had finally identified Kapaun’s remains.

"After 70 years, Chaplain (Capt.) Kapaun has been accounted for," acting Army Secretary John E. Whitley said in a March 5 news release.

Officials told Ray Kapaun that his uncle's remains, along with those of several other soldiers, were returned to the U.S. shortly after the end of the war and buried at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. They were only recently identified using dental records and DNA. Arrangements for a burial in his hometown are still being made.

There are still more than 7,500 unaccounted-for Korean War service members. Kapaun's repatriation is evidence that the DPAA mission continues its commitment to never leaving a fallen comrade behind.

In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Kapaun a servant of God — the first step toward sainthood. Every year in Kansas, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita holds a 60-mile pilgrimage from a Wichita church to the chaplain's hometown in his honor.

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March 2021 Report

Soldier Accounted For From World War II (Gutierrez, J.)

Release No: 21-023 March 3, 2021 

WASHINGTON — The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Army Pfc. Juan F. Gutierrez, 26, who was captured and died as a prisoner of war during World War II, was accounted for Feb. 24, 2021.

In late 1941, Gutierrez was a member of 200th Coast Artillery Regiment, when Japanese forces invaded the Philippine Islands in December. Intense fighting continued until the surrender of the Bataan peninsula on April 9, 1942, and of Corregidor Island on May 6, 1942. After the fall of the Philippines to Japanese forces in spring of 1942, PFC Gutierrez was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese. He died of beriberi on November 19, 1942, at the Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp in northern Luzon, and was buried in a common grave at the camp cemetery. In January of 1946, this common grave was exhumed for possible identification. Ten sets of remains from this grave, including those of PFC Gutierrez, could not be identified at the time, and were buried as unknown remains at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. In August 2014, the Department of Defense determined there was sufficient evidence to disinter and identify these ten unknown remains. One set of these remains were eventually identified as those of PFC Gutierrez as part of this effort.

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December 2020 Report

Judy Cates-Eddy, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC

"I joined the Marines right out of Pearl High School, Mississippi . . . I weighed 100 pounds and was a complete mouse afraid of my own shadow. But the Marine Corps transformed me.” 

Judy Cates still remembers the day she told her father, a US Army WWII and Korean War veteran, that she was joining the Marines. "My daddy cried,” she recalled.

But it wasn’t because he didn’t approve. As she later learned, her father's response came from the memories of his brother, James "Jabbo” Cates, a 29-year-old US Army Master Sergeant killed at the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950.

According to survivors of the horrific battle fought between US and Chinese forces deep in the mountains of North Korea, MSgt Cates, a combat-decorated WWII veteran serving with the 31st RCT (Regimental Combat Team), attacked up a snow-covered hill and was never seen from again.

Judy’s father, Travis, spent the rest of his life waiting for his brother to return and was upset about Marine veterans of Chosin who had spoken disparagingly of the 1,000+ soldiers who were killed or declared MIA during the battle.

But despite her father’s reaction, Ms. Cates, determined to become a Marine, left for Parris Island. "I weighed 100 lbs and was a complete mouse afraid of my own shadow. But the Marine Corps transformed me,” she said proudly.

Cates spent the next 20 years serving her country as a Marine journalist, public relations specialist, and legal secretary. At one point in her career, Gunny Cates even worked as a receptionist for Marine Corps Commandant General Louis H. Wilson, Jr., a WWII Medal of Honor recipient.

She retired from the Marines in 1988, and for the first time in her adult life, was a civilian. But she never forgot the impact her uncle’s death had on her father. "I made an unspoken promise to my father that I would never forget his brother," she said.

Last year, on September 10, 2019, nearly seven decades after being listed as MIA, MSgt James Cates came home. His remains, finally identified and returned to the family, were buried eleven days later. "When his remains were returned, I cried in joy for both Jabbo and my father,” Judy said.

Postscript:
In a strange twist of fate, Judy’s father, who had served in the US Army during WWII and Korea and died in 1988, was buried with full military honors by a Marine Corps funeral detail. 

"Due to budgetary cutbacks in the late 1980’s,” Judy explained, "the military curtailed funerals for soldiers unless they were MOH, POW, or Purple Heart recipients.”  

But Judy’s commanding officer at the time, fully aware of Cates' story, stepped in. In an effort to pay tribute to Judy’s father and her uncle, he arranged to have a Marine detachment at the funeral. "My Marine Corps colonel sent a full funeral detail,” she recalled. "He did it out of respect for our family.”

Today we pay tribute to MSgt Cates, his brother, and all those who served, sacrificed, and died in WWII and Korea. We also honor GySgt Judy Cates for her dedicated service to country and Corps and for honoring the sacrifices of her father and uncle.

Freedom isn't free.

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November 2020 Report

Sunny Lee, who ensured Utah remembered the Korean War, dies at 67

Published: August 13 

Updated: August 13, 2020

Sunny Lee, who from her home in Springdale worked with the South Korean government to celebrate American soldiers who fought in what’s been called The Forgotten War, died Friday at Dixie Regional Medical Center. She was 67.

Her husband, John Lee, said his wife had a meeting in her home Aug. 4 with a representative of the South Korean government to talk about some of her many projects related to Korean War veterans. Later that night, John Lee said, Sunny Lee collapsed in their kitchen.

Doctors determined she suffered a brain hemorrhage. She was removed from life support on Friday.

In the 21 years Lee lived in Utah, the state’s Korean War veterans received more recognition than they had in any of the other decades since the battles ended in 1953. Working through the South Korean Consulate in San Francisco, which would become Lee’s primary contact with her birth country’s leaders, Lee persuaded the South Korean government to contribute $40,000 to a Korean War memorial in Cedar City at a time when organizers were having trouble fundraising. The memorial was dedicated in 2008.

The next year, Lee organized a delegation of 150 Cedar City residents, including veterans, who visited Gapyeong, South Korea, to see the battlefield where the 213th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the Utah National Guard fought. Later in 2009, the Cedar City and Gapyeong signed pacts becoming sister cities.

The travel to South Korea continued. She persuaded that country’s government to finance trips for American veterans, their spouses, children and grandchildren to visit the country and see what it has become in the decades since the war.

"Without America,” Lee told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2015, "Korea wouldn’t be what country it is.”

Later in 2015, "CBS Sunday Morning” followed Lee to South Korea on a trip for children of American soldiers declared missing in action during the war and whose remains had not yet been recovered. The children — now senior citizens — saw battlefields and memorials and were celebrated with traditional dances, music and meals.

Jorja Reyburn, of Boise, Idaho, and her brother were on the trip. Their father, Army 1st Lt. James Elliott, went missing in Korea in 1950 and has never been found. Reyburn said the 2015 visit and another one she took to South Korea a few years later would not have been possible without Lee’s work.

"It’s probably the most closure that we’ll ever have,” Reyburn said in a phone interview Thursday. "And to be able to stand along the banks of the river where our dad was last seen was extremely emotional for us.”

Lee had an older sister born the same year as Reyburn. Lee’s sister died during the war, Reyburn said, when she contracted the flu and no medicine was available.

Reyburn said she and and Lee struck up a relationship, kept in touch called each other sisters.

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Louise Allen of Salt Lake City weeps for her husband Donald Allen, a WWII, Korean and Vietnam veteran who served for 27 years in the armed forces, after accepting the medal meant for her husband. Allen passed away in September 2013. One hundred eighty-one Korean War veterans were presented with a medal from the government of The Republic of Korea and recognized for their service, Sept. 10, 2014 in the Utah Capitol rotunda. 

Commemorations continued in Utah, too. Lee was among the Korean immigrants in the state who worked with their old government to present veterans with what’s called the Ambassador For Peace Medal.

The medals have been presented to veterans — often posthumously — at the Utah Capitol, nursing homes and on the state’s Native American reservations in ceremonies that have included South Korean diplomats in their country’s traditional dress. John Cole, a Roy resident who served with First Marine Division during the war and received an Ambassador For Peace Medal in a 2014 ceremony, said for many Korean War veterans, the medals were the first recognition of their service.

Cole on Thursday said the help of Lee and other Korean immigrants in Utah "has been incalculable because they looked at it as a way to say thank you to the Korean War veterans in this state for helping save their country.”

"It’s like if you are in a burning car,” Lee explained to CBS, "Somebody came to save your life, so to feel that they are your hero to pay back for the rest of your life. I feel like that.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sunny Lee works with the South Korean government to bring the families of MIA Korean War veterans to South Korea where they are honored for their family member's service. Lee was photographed at her Springdale home on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Lee was born Jan. 2, 1953, in Seoul as the second of three children to Sung Chun and Young Hyun Lee. Her birth was about six months before a July 1953 armistice ended the Korean War. One of her early memories was drinking powdered milk that came from the United States.

She married John Lee on Aug. 18, 1976. His sister had married a U.S. soldier. The same year Sunny and John Lee married, they followed John’s sister and immigrated to the United States.

John Lee started a Santa Ana, Calif., company that automated industrial sewing machines. Sunny Lee kept the finances while the couple also reared a son, William Lee, who now lives in Los Angeles, and a daughter, Sarah Lee, who resides in Germany.

Besides her husband and children, Sunny Lee’s survivors include her mother, who now lives in Orange County, Calif.

Sunny and John Lee were able to retire early. They moved to Springdale — a town they discovered during a road trip — in 1999. They built a home with views of the redrock walls of Zion Canyon, the entry to Zion National Park.

Sunny Lee began looking for volunteer opportunities. She donated some of her time to work helping staff and visitors in the national park. Then she heard about Cedar City’s efforts to erect the Korean War memorial.

Sunny Lee worked with the South Korean government to bring the families of MIA Korean War veterans to South Korea where they are honored for their family member's service. Lee was photographed at her Springdale home on Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

In 2017, Lee was suffering from pain in her stomach that was eventually diagnosed as cancer there. Even while undergoing treatment, she pursued an ambitious project.

She set out to track down the families of the approximately 8,150 U.S. service personnel declared missing in action in Korea to offer them a chance to visit that country or find another way to recognize their service member. She started with the families of 40 personnel who were from Utah.

She did what research she could from home and received some help from the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. When she could find families, the conversations didn’t always go as she hoped.

"They thought I was a tour guide trying to make money out of this,” Lee told The Tribune earlier this year.

It’s not clear how many families Lee found. Sarah Lee on Thursday said she doesn’t know who will take over her mother’s work.

"She never looked at this as her project,” Sarah Lee said. "She always looked at herself as the master supporter but never the one reason why this was happening.”

That humility remained after death. Sarah Lee said, in accordance with her mother’s wishes, Sunny Lee was cremated Tuesday; there are no plans for a memorial service.

Lee kept a binder for every family she assisted, complete with photos of the service member, his military record, photos of their spouses, children and grandchildren.

"They never had a closure,” Lee said, "and they are the true forgotten Korean War families.”

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October 2020 Report 

Marine Accounted For From Korean War (Ellis, H.)

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that Marine Pfc. Henry E. Ellis, 22, killed during the Korean War, was accounted for Sept. 29, 2020.

On the evening of November 27, 1950, a huge Chinese force launched an attack against the U.S. and United Nations (UN) troops stationed in the Chosin Reservoir area in north-east North Korea.  The resulting seventeen-day conflict became known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.  After a fierce defense, U.S. and UN forces attempted to withdraw south from the Chosin Reservoir to the port of Hungnam; however, the only route of retreat was a seventy-eight-mile roadway that the Chinese had roadblocked extensively.  On November 29, a convoy of tanks, jeeps, and trucks, known as Task Force Drysdale, was organized to push north from Koto-ri, a town between Hungnam and Chosin Reservoir, to clear the road for the withdrawing men.  

As they pushed north, the convoy faced heavy fire from the Chinese positioned on the high ground surrounding the road.  Part of the convoy became trapped when the Chinese blew bridges to the south and north, while disabled vehicles and blocked tanks also blocked the road to the north.  The trapped members of the task force put up a makeshift defense, but were eventually forced to surrender to the Chinese.  Only the tanks and infantry that had been north of the bridge when it was blown managed to reach the Chosin Reservoir area, while the men and tanks south of the disabled vehicles were able to withdraw back to Kunu-ri. 

Private First Class Henry Edward Ellis, who joined the U.S. Marine Corps from Virginia, was a member of Headquarters Company, 1st Service Battalion, 1st Marine Division. He was a member of Task Force Drysdale, and he was killed in action during the advance from Koto-ri to the Chosin Reservoir.

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September 2020 Report

U.S., South Korea Repatriate Remains of 147 Korean Soldiers

Navy Adm. Philip S. Davidson spoke during a June 23 repatriation ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, in which the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency turned over the remains of 147 South Korean service members who died in the Korean War in the largest repatriation of South Korean soldiers.

The effort to return the remains is a part of the DPAA Korean War Identification Project, and it includes remains unilaterally turned over by North Korea from 1990 to 1994 and in 2018. It is the largest transfer of remains between the two countries since the 2018 repatriation ceremony, when DPAA returned 64 remains to South Korea.

"We are here today because of the unprecedented coordination and the close friendship between our two nations," the admiral said. The DPAA's mission and sacred endeavor of accounting for our nation’s missing heroes continues with remarkable success, he added.

The remains were analyzed by scientists and staff from the DPAA laboratory and the South Korea's Ministry of National Defense Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification during a joint forensic review conducted in the days prior to the ceremony. Working cooperatively and thoroughly, they concluded that the 147 individual remains are of South Korean origin, and seven of the remains have been individually identified and are pending final testing once they are returned to South Korea. 

"Our missing and unaccounted-for service members are entitled to one certainty: They will never be forgotten," Davidson said." We owe these honored dead and their families a profound debt of gratitude."

The admiral said he hopes for more repatriation ceremonies for both nations to bring a sense of relief to families and to allow grateful nations to render proper honors to our fallen heroes. "We shall never forget them," he said.

President Moon Jae-in will welcome the remains home in an official ceremony today in South Korea's capital of Seoul that coincides with the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.

During the Korean War, South Koreans and Americans fought side by side to defend the values embodied in the established rules-based international order, which was then in its infancy, Davidson said.

"For more than six decades, our ironclad alliance has been the linchpin of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific — certainly one of the most successful of its kind in modern history," he said.

South Korea, formally known as the Republic of Korea, and U.S. service members on the Korean Peninsula and across the region continue to carry on the mission to which these individuals dedicated their last breath, he added.

"Together, our two nations will continue to honor their legacy through our unwavering strength, our resolve and our dedication to preserving peace on the peninsula and throughout the Indo-Pacific region," Davidson said.

Park Jae-min, South Korea's vice defense minister, noted that this year marks the 67th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty, which formed the South Korea-United States alliance in 1953. 

"It has been seven decades since the Republic of Korea and the United States have fought hand-in-hand as allies," he said. "The fact that we can now put a name to the 147 remains returning to their loved ones is truly overwhelming."

The two countries will continue their mutual cooperation to pursue the fulfillment of a sacred duty to remember the sacrifices of the fallen warriors and to bring every last one home, Park said.

Both officials signed an acknowledgement letter to officially document the transfer and repatriation of remains from the United States to South Korea. The box carrying the soldiers' remains was boarded onto a South Korean armed forces aircraft bound for Seoul.

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