Cpl. Wilfred K. Hussey Jr. volunteered for Army service in July 1949 just a month after he graduated from Hilo High School.
First sent to Japan, the 19-year-old participated in the Inchon landing in the Korean War and then was reported missing in action on Dec. 12, 1950, as his unit, the 31st Infantry Regiment, battled Chinese forces in brutal subzero temperatures near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.
Hussey remained missing for nearly 69 years — until his remains were recently identified.
On Friday the Hilo soldier was remembered on National POW/MIA Recognition Day at Punchbowl cemetery as one of more than 200
formerly missing service members who have been
accounted for over the past year by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
“National POW/MIA recognition Day is the day set aside to pause and honor the service and sacrifice of all of our prisoners of war and those who are still unaccounted for, as well as their families,” Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, deputy director of the accounting agency, said at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In global conflicts dating back to World War II, more than 138,000 Americans have been held as POWs, with 16,800 dying in captivity, Kreitz told more than 400 people in attendance at the ceremony.
More than 81,000 Americans remain missing from conflicts back to World War II, he said.
“That’s a staggering number, especially when you think about all of the families who watched their loved ones go off to war — only to never have them return,” Kreitz said.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which has a lab and offices at Hickam Field, estimates that nearly 39,000 of the missing are potentially recoverable.
A black-and-white POW/MIA flag flew beneath the Stars and Stripes at the
Honolulu Memorial at Punchbowl, and the same flags were flown over the White House, U.S. Capitol and at other locations around the country.
“As Americans, it is our sacred duty to pay tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces for their service and sacrifice, especially those who endured unimaginable physical and emotional trauma as prisoners of war and those who never returned to American soil,” President Donald Trump said in a proclamation.
Among those in attendance were retired Navy Capt.
Gerald Coffee, who was shot down in 1966 by North Vietnamese anti-aircraft guns and was held prisoner for over seven years in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison, and
retired Navy Capt. Jim Hickerson, who was shot down in 1967 and held in captivity
Guest speaker Robert
Wallace, a retired executive director of Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Washington office and a Vietnam vet with three Purple Hearts, recalled the sense of remembrance that was instilled in him as far back as his Marine Corps boot camp days when a drill instructor told the story of Marines involved in a firefight.
A sergeant told his lieutenant that “Pvt. Smith isn’t here — I have to go back to go get him,” Wallace related.
The lieutenant told him no, that the unit had too many casualties, but the sergeant persisted, left and returned carrying the dead Marine.
The lieutenant “looked at the sergeant. and he said, ‘You’re wounded and he’s dead,’ and (the sergeant) said, ‘Yes, but he was alive when I got there, and he said, ‘I knew you’d come. I knew you’d come.’”
Kreitz said the accounting agency accounted for 203 Americans last fiscal year, and with nine days left in this one, 202 identifications have been made “and by the end of this month, that number will be significantly higher.”
A total of 5,300 Americans are still missing in North Korea, he noted. In July 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un turned over to the United States 55 sets of remains that were airlifted to Hawaii.
DNA testing has shown that those 55 sets represent as many as 150 individuals, Kreitz said. So far, 37 Americans have been identified.
“President Trump’s securing the commitment from Chairman Kim for the repatriation and recovery of these remains was historic,” Kreitz said. “But the elusive part is that we have not yet been able to reach an agreement with the North Korean army to resume field operations there.”
The last mission into North Korea was in 2005.
“But we remain open to meeting with them to make an agreement to conduct recovery operations next spring,” he added.