She was 2 months old when heartbreaking word landed at her grandmother’s door a week before Christmas 1950 that Pfc. Kenneth F. Reese, a 19-year-old artilleryman, was missing in action in North Korea. To this day, the military can’t tell her if he was killed in action or died in captivity. His body has never been found.
“It changed my whole life. I’ve missed this man my whole life,” she says.
She’s not alone.
Reese is among 7,910 unaccounted for from Korea, down from 8,200 when the war ended 60 years ago this month.
A sense of emptiness and unanswered questions haunted many families of the missing throughout the second half of the 20th century, when science and circumstance did not permit the almost exact accounting for the dead and the missing that has been achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the government’s efforts have provided closure for hundreds of families of the missing in recent years, many others are still waiting.
The internal report by Paul M. Cole was never meant to be made public. It is unsparing in its criticisms:
—In recent years the process by which JPAC gathers bones and other material useful for identifications has “collapsed” and is now “acutely dysfunctional.”
—JPAC is finding too few investigative leads, resulting in too few collections of human remains to come even close to achieving Congress’s demand for a minimum 200 identifications per year by 2015. Of the 80 identifications that JPAC’s Central Identification Laboratory made in 2012, only 35 were derived from remains recovered by JPAC. Thirty-eight of the 80 were either handed over unilaterally by other governments or were disinterred from a U.S. military cemetery. Seven were from a combination of those sources.
—Some search teams are sent into the field, particularly in Europe, on what amount to boondoggles. No one is held to account for “a pattern of foreign travel, accommodations and activities paid for by public funds that are ultimately unnecessary, excessive, inefficient or unproductive.” Some refer to this as “military tourism.”