Saturday, May 25, 2002

MIA families persist in asking for answer




By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Cpl. Edward Gibson seemed to sense he was in danger.

        In his last letter to his wife back home in Cincinnati, he wrote how his Army infantry company was on the move in North Korea and that the going was tough.

        Weeks later, his wife, caring for their infant son, received the dreaded telegram: Her husband was missing in action. Unlike the certainty of death, an MIA classification can bring both hope and horror and leave families waiting for years without a final answer.

[photo] Family photo albums revive memories for Frances Stumin and her nephew, Edward Joseph Gibson. The fate of her brother, Edward's father, remains unknown.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        The Gibson family is still waiting today.

        “I always had the fantasy when I was younger that I'd open up the door one day and he'd be there,” said Edward Gibson, who never met his father but followed him with his own career in the Army. “Now, I just want a grave.”

        Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, will travel to Asia next week with a congressional delegation and hopes to leave a package of material on Cpl. Gibson, including dental records, with North Korean officials.

        The congressman has scheduled stops in China, where he may meet with North Korean delegates, and South Korea but has not yet confirmed a visit to North Korea.

        The Army reported Cpl. Gibson missing in action on Nov. 26, 1950, after a battle with Communist forces near Kujong Dong. The military issued a presumptive finding of death in 1953 and declared his remains nonrecoverable in 1956.

        More than 8,100 U.S. soldiers were prisoners of war or missing in action during the Korean War, which lasted three years and left more than 36,000 U.S. troops dead and more than 103,000 wounded. After exchanges of remains shortly after the war, the recovery effort was suspended because of decades of Cold War suspicion.

Gibson
Gibson
        The collapse of the Soviet Union and gradual improvement in relations between the United States and Russia, China and North Korea led to renewed interest in the missing soldiers in the past decade.

        Since 1996, joint U.S. and North Korean teams have searched battlefields and recovered 152 sets of remains, and researchers have been given access to some Russian and Chinese archives.

        Advances in science, including DNA analysis, also have raised hopes that more remains can be identified. A trove of remains — that North Korea turned over after the war — is being checked at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

        Post-Cold War disclosures that some missing soldiers may have been taken to Soviet prisons have encouraged families to demand a full accounting.

        “We want answers,” said Donna Downes Knox, president of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs in Roanoke, Va.

        The coalition wants the United States to raise the issue of missing soldiers when discussing trade and foreign policy with Russia, China and North Korea.

        President Bush described North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” — with Iraq and Iran — after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but negotiations between the two countries over the war dead should continue.

        “They will miraculously find those records,” Ms. Knox said of linking the issue to foreign policy. “They will produce them.”

        Frances Stumin, Cpl. Gibson's sister, took up the cause and has persisted after her mother and Cpl. Gibson's wife died, writing letters to Mr. Chabot and talking with the congressman's staff over six years.

        She has a newspaper article from the Western Hills Press from May 1951, which detailed the family's plight. A photo with the story shows a beaming Martha Gibson holding young Edward, just enrolled in the GI Stork Club.

        “Sometimes I wonder if we should disturb it at all,” Ms. Stumin of Bridgetown said of the search for her brother's remains. “But it would be nice to have a grave. (His son) wants a grave.”

       



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