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 Jr., said that logically, he and his brother, Larry, knew their father wasn’t coming back.
Sixty-eight years later, McDaniel Jr. stood at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl today with his father’s recovered dog tag in his hand.
The last few 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 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 their relative in Indiana.
The retired Army colonel, a former Green Beret and chaplain, was the keynote speaker this 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.”
“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 today’s 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 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 today’s event, more than 82,000 Americans remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars and other conflicts. Of those, about 35,000 are considered recoverable.
McDaniel Jr. 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.
“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,” McDaniel Jr. 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.