Honor, 50 years later

Published 10:37 pm Thursday, March 5, 2009

Robert Harwood Williams was 32 years old when he was lost in Korea. A member of the 25th Infantry Division, he would have been in the thick of the hellish Korean War.

He came to the Army from Suffolk, but no one is sure what happened to him in Korea — only that he didn’t make it out alive. He was one of more than 8,000 servicemen who were designated as Missing in Action during the three-year conflict. During the years since the end of that war, some remains have been found, but identifying them has proved a daunting task.

The nation is fortunate that there are men and women like 78-year-old Harold Davis, who has made it his personal mission to help identify as many of those remains as possible.

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Working with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Davis and others like him across the United States are trying to use today’s advanced DNA tests and other less technological tools to track down relatives of recovered missing servicemen. As the military finds remains on old battlegrounds, Davis and other stateside volunteers get to work contacting genealogical societies, historic societies, libraries, newspapers and veterans organizations to see if they can make connections.

“I just have a devoted feeling for them, because I was associated with them” he said of the servicemen whose memory he honors. “The families are so grateful when you do contact them.”

Clearly most, if not all, of those families will have long ago given up hope of seeing their lost brothers, husbands, sons or fathers alive again. But the simple closure of having remains to bury still can go a long way to providing peace.

To those who have given the last, best measure of life in defense of their nation, America owes its fullest efforts to return them home and reunite them with their families. To men and women like Harold Davis, the nation owes a debt of gratitude for helping us to fulfill that responsibility.