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Home at last: Family welcomes return of POW 62 years after his death

Shirley Hare Shipway, 65, of Strasburg, holds a photo of her brother James R. Hare when he enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 19. Hare, who was a Korean War POW, was missing for 62 years and was identified in December from remains the Army received from North Korea. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shirley Hare Shipway holds a purple star that was presented to her on behalf of her brother James R. Hare, a Korean War POW who was missing for 62 years. Hare's body was recently identified using DNA. The purple heart he received posthumously went to his oldest living brother, Stanley Hare, of Smithsburg, Md. His other seven siblings received purple stars. Rich Cooley/Daily

James Rexford Hare. Courtesy of the Army

By Josette Keelor

U.S. Army Cpl. James Rexford Hare was just 19 years old when he disappeared from his unit in South Korea. On Feb. 13, 62 years to the day of his capture as a prisoner of war, Hare's siblings laid him to rest in Wesley Chapel Cemetery in Points, W.Va.

As a result of the Army's vow to never leave a fallen comrade behind and DNA research, Hare's remains were recently identified and returned to his family.

Army Master Sergeant Glynn L. Honts, Casualty Affairs officer and 298th Signal Company Station chief who was assigned to the case on behalf of the family, said Hare died on April 30, 1951, near where he had been stationed at Suan Bean Camp during the Korean War. Hare was part of a battalion moving along a main supply route in South Korea when he and others were taken prisoner on Feb. 13, 1951.

"He died of malnutrition," Honts said during a phone interview this week.

With little food to begin with, Honts said, the North Koreans would have spared little for their prisoners.

"They just starved to death," he said.

It was only days earlier, on April 18, 1951, that Hare's mother, Opal Virginia Hare, wrote to the Army asking for information about her missing first born.

Shirley Hare Shipway of Strasburg never knew her eldest brother. She was 2 years old when he joined the Army, she said. The 10th of 15 sisters and brothers who lived past infancy, Shipway, now 65, has spent her entire life wondering about her brother James.

She remembered recently asking God, "I would love to know if he's still living," she said. Then, only a few months ago, she dreamed of her brother.

"In the dream, here's this beautiful casket with the United States flag on it," Shipway said. On Feb. 12 the image was repeated at her brother's viewing at Scarpelli Funeral Home in Cumberland, Md., she said.

"I thought, 'OK, there's my answer to the prayer,'" she said.

"It's a heartwarming story when you stop and think -- 62 years my brother's been in the Cold War," Shipway said.

It took the Army two years to receive official word of Hare's capture, Honts said.

Hare was in the 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was part of the American forces supporting Republic of South Korea forces near the South Korean town of Hoengsong, when Chinese forces launched a massive counter attack, according to a news release from the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington.

According to the release, "During the attacks, U.S. and Korean forces were forced to retreat south. Over the next few days units of the 2nd ID were attacked again, suffering more than 200 casualties, including more than 100 servicemen being captured by enemy forces."

Two years later, the Army learned of Hare's position, but his remains still could not be retrieved, Honts said.

In September 1953, during a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and communist forces, a returning U.S. soldier told de-briefers that Hare was captured by the enemy and taken to a POW camp in Suan County on Feb. 13, 1951. The soldier, the release states, said Hare died from malnutrition in April of that year. His remains were not among those returned by communist forces during Operation Glory in 1954.

The North Koreans did not initially grant Americans access to the remains, Honts said, and it wasn't until 1991 that the Army finally began receiving word on some of its missing.

Over the following four years, the North Koreans gave the U.S. 208 boxes of remains.

During the identification of the remains, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, such as mitochondrial DNA.

It took over two decades for DNA testing at the military's Pacific lab in Hawaii to determine that Hare was among the remains.

"Now that they have DNA testing, it's getting better," Honts said. But the release still numbers 7,900 Americans unaccounted for from the Korean War.

In 2004, Hare's brother William Hare and sister Frances McCarthy both provided DNA samples in an attempt to help identify their brother, said Shipway.

"They said that the DNA matched 90 percent," she said.

Shipway said the family learned about Hare's identification on Dec. 19, 2012, when the Army notified the now eldest living brother, Stanley Hare, of Smithsburg, Md.

He received his brother's purple heart and an American flag; the other seven living siblings received purple stars, Shipway said, "to represent a family member has been missing or killed in service."

Opal Hare died, never learning the fate of her eldest son, Shipway said.

"She was 44 when she passed on May 20, 1958," Shipway said. "Still, in her heart, I can remember her praying. She still wanted to know where her son was."

In her mother's letter to the Army in 1951, she described her son as her pride and joy.

"I hope god [sic] is with him where ever he may be, and I know my heart will always be with his ..." she wrote in the letter, a copy of which the family still has. "He was a fine boy."

Shipway's brother John Thomas joined the Marines at the age of 19. He was killed in Vietnam in 1968, she said, and is named on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

Two of her other brothers have retired from the service.

"So our family is very well served to the country," Shipway said.

Now down to eight, the family keeps in close contact and reunites in Cumberland, Md., the first weekend of June every year, Shipway said. Her brother Martin, the second oldest son, planned the yearly reunions until his death last year.

Because she knows so little about her eldest brother, Shipway said she was delighted to meet one of Hare's former childhood friends at the viewing last week. Jim Martin of Cumberland also fought in Korea, she said, and he used to play ball with Hare at Taylor's Field in Cumberland.

Through the years, Shipway said, many have asked about her brother.

"It's a joy to know that they have such, I'll call it technology. ... And it's a hundred percent sure that it's a family member," she said. "I think it's mind-boggling. It's just amazing."

Honts was at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Jan. 19 when Hare returned home, six days before what would have been his 81st birthday. He was accompanied by Staff Sgt. Marco A. Contreras of the 25th Infantry Division located at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

The Army never gives up searching for its fallen and missing, Honts said.

"The Army is actively involved in every conflict with every prisoner of war to find them," he said. "That is part of our ethos -- never to leave a fallen comrade."

"We will search until we find them," he said.

Being able to bury her brother has given Shipway a certain amount of closure.

"I have a lot of good closures," she said.

Still, it's tough for her to give a name to the emotions she feels now.

"I'm not going to say sorrow. It's just sort of like a missing spot in my heart for my brothers who are gone. "To me, they're never gone," she said. "They're still with me."

A dedication ceremony of a memorial will take place July 20 in Jim Barnett Park in Winchester for all who served in the Korean War. A ground-breaking ceremony for the memorial will be at 10 a.m. March 2, and the dedication ceremony will be at 10 a.m. on July 20. The memorial will serve to honor all men and women in the U.S. who served during the Korean War, with particular emphasis on those killed in action and missing in action.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com


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