Brenda Going stood in the hallway amid maps of Korean War and Vietnam War conflict zones wearing a colorful American Flag shirt and hat as she told family stories.
Going, a Union resident, was one of 165 family members of unaccounted U.S. military service members who gathered Saturday in Charleston. They met to discuss their cases and connect with each other.
The event was put on by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a branch of the Department of Defense that works to recover service members listed as prisoners of war or missing in action. Its staff works on cases dating from World War II up to the Gulf War.
There are more than 82,000 unaccounted service members nationwide, with 855 of them from South Carolina, according to agency data.
Going’s cousin, Army Cpl. Paul Craig, went missing on Feb. 12, 1953, during the Korean War, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.
“Since that time … there’s just about three of us left that would really be interested in trying to find out what happened to Paul,” she said. “Families like ours stay together. There were 55 first cousins and now there’s only three left. To be able to come here today is just wonderful, and to be able to connect with other families that are looking for their loved ones — it’s just great.”
Going had never been to an Accounting Agency family update meeting before.
After hearing the presentations, speaking with staff and meeting other families, she said she came away impressed and encouraged all relatives of unaccounted service members to contact the agency.
“If you’re not sure about what to do … there’ll be someone there that will be happy to help you,” Going said. “We can’t get back into North Korea right now, but they’re still working. We’re just hoping that as time goes on, we’ll be able to connect with our loved one and bring his remains home.”
Fern Winbush, acting director of the agency, said each meeting with families is a valuable opportunity.
The event, held at the Charleston Marriott on Lockwood Drive, began with an overview of the work done by the agency and presentations about the recovery and identification process, DNA testing and advances in technology, and a remembrance ceremony.
During the afternoon, families separated in specialized sessions for the Korean and Cold wars, the Vietnam War and World War II where experts gave updates on efforts to locate the missing and took questions.
Families could also sit with an analyst and speak individually about their case, Winbush said.
Every year, the agency holds seven meetings in locations across the country as well as two large meetings in Washington D.C., she said. The next family update event will be held in New Orleans in March, she said.
Johnnie Webb, deputy director for the outreach and community relations for the agency, said that working to help locate the missing is a personal mission.
“It’s more than a job to me,” Webb said. “It’s kind of who I am now. It gets in your blood and you really have devotion, not just to what we’re trying to do but to the families. I’m a Vietnam (War) veteran, so to be able to bring some of my comrades back home means the world to me.”
Despite the work — tracking down records, speaking with sources and taking trips out to the areas where the service member went missing — that goes into finding unaccounted service members, the effort is a small price to pay, he said.
“These are people that sacrificed their lives for this nation, for the freedom that we have today,” Webb said. “These men have not been forgotten. We’re not going to let their loss of life, their sacrifice, go without us trying to bring them back and honor them.”
And for brothers Raymond and Alan McPherson, that spirit doesn’t go unnoticed.
Their brother, Maj. Everett A. McPherson, was shot down over Vietnam in March 1966. All three brothers served in the Marine Corps.
“This kind of conference does so much for us as family members to get questions answered,” said Raymond, a Jackson, N.C. resident. “We’ve gotten more questions answered in this particular conference than we ever had done. … When I was a Marine, every time I stood muster … the word was — all present and all accounted for. This is what America does.”
Source: The Post and Courier