Charles McDaniel remembers growing up without his father, who was reported missing in fighting in the Korean War on Nov. 2, 1950.
The elder McDaniel, an Army master sergeant also named Charles, was a 32-year-old medic with the 8th Cavalry Regiment Medical Company.
“I remember as a young boy, from time to time … you think, well, maybe my dad’s still alive,” the son said. “And sometimes there’s a horrible thought as you grow up a little bit — maybe he’s still alive and in a prison camp with these kind of people that torture and maim.”
But McDaniel said that logically, he and his brother, Larry, knew their father wasn’t coming back.
Sixty-eight years later, McDaniel stood at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl on Friday with his father’s recovered dog tag in his hand.
The past couple months have been an “incredible journey” that included watching the return of 55 sets of presumed American remains from North Korea, getting a phone call saying his father’s dog tag had been found with the remains, and learning just last week that his father had been positively identified, the Indiana man said.
“It’s just mixed feelings,” McDaniel, 71, said of the dog tag. “It’s grieving some. This was around my father’s neck.” He said the family is looking at burying him in Indiana.
The retired Army colonel, a former Green Beret and chaplain, was the keynote speaker Friday morning at a National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony at Punchbowl.
President Donald Trump issued a proclamation recognizing Sept. 21, 2018, as National POW/MIA Recognition Day and called “upon the people of the United States to join me in saluting all American POWs and those missing in action who valiantly served our country.”
Natalie Rauch, who was 8 when her father’s RF-4C Phantom jet went down in North Vietnam in 1966, read a state proclamation. Air Force Col. Warren Anderson “is one of the ones who is not recovered — yet,” Rauch said.
His name is engraved on the Courts of the Missing at Punchbowl.
“It’s a very solemn setting, coming together here at Punchbowl cemetery,” retired Rear Adm. Peter Gumataotao, director of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies and another speaker, said at the event.
“It really warms my heart to know that other similar events are being held around our country to specifically recognize, respect and reflect on the tremendous sacrifice of fellow Americans missing in action,” Gumataotao said.
The identifications of the elder McDaniel and Pfc. William H. Jones, 19, of North Carolina, were the first made by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency from the 55 sets of remains turned over by North Korea.
According to the accounting agency, which has a lab at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and which hosted Friday’s event, more than 82,000 Americans remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars and other conflicts. Of those, about 35,000 are considered recoverable.
Next week, 64 sets of remains that were part of a North Korean turnover in the early 1990s that turned out to be South Koreans will be returned to that country in a ceremony at Hickam.
The younger McDaniel was 3-1/2 when his father went off to war for the second time after serving in World War II. As such, he has few recollections of the man.
“The only real memory I have of my father is I can remember him coming home when we were in Japan and running out to him and him picking me up,” he said.
An eyewitness believed that Master Sgt. McDaniel was killed in action during a Chinese Communist Forces surprise attack near Unsan in North Korea.
Both Charles and Larry McDaniel, who is 70 and from Florida, participated in the emplacement of a bronze rosette next to the name of their father in the Courts of the Missing to indicate he has been accounted for.
“I encourage all of you to participate as you can with supporting (the recovery) of those who have gone missing, and you take it personally and enthusiastically and steadfastly,” Charles McDaniel told more than 250 people in attendance. “Sixty-eight years is a long time. But it happened. So don’t give up.”
The ceremony included a wreath presentation by veterans and other groups, a rifle salute and taps.
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