Richard John Seadore
Photo by The Callaway Courier
Retired Pastor Al Seadore of Callaway and Shirley Hitchcock of Ainsworth go over details with Janette Gray and SFC Michael Hagen of the Army's Casualty and Casualty Assistance.
Sixty-six years ago, Cpl. Richard John Seadore died in a prisoner-of-war camp in North Korea.Decades later, his remains will be received on Aug. 4 by his family at the Grandview Cemetery at Long Pine with a full military service.
Long Pine is in northern Nebraska, nine miles west of Bassett.
The arrangements are to transfer Seadore’s body to Nebraska on June 10. Seadore’s siblings Shirley Hitchcock and Albert Seadore met with representatives of the U.S. Department of Army Casualty from Fort Knox, KY and the Casualty Assistance Center from Fort Riley, KS.
Janette Gray and SFC Michael Hagen presented the survivors with a detailed written report of what likely happened to Richard Seadore, and how his remains were recovered.
Although his young siblings -- Shirley and Al -- were only 6 and 4 years old, respectively, when Richard Seadore was reported to be missing-in-action, they felt their mother's pain through the years. Ella Mae Seadore's pain was compounded when the family was informed that no remains could be sent home for burial.
At one time, the U.S. Army reported that Richard's remains were unrecoverable. But that did not discourage Ella Mae’s hope that someday her son would “come home.”
And, shortly before Ella Mae died in September 2001, a sample of her DNA was taken. as well as samples from Richard's brothers -- Albert and Johnny Seadore.
Enlistment and Korea
Richard's military journey began in the winter of 1949 when, at 19 years of age, he enlisted in the Army.
His brother, Johnny, only 17 at the time, also wanted to enlist, but needed his mother's written permission. With much reluctance, she signed the paper and the two brothers were off together to basic camp in Arkansas.
During that time, Richard contracted the measles, so he had to temporarily withdraw from training. Johnny completed basic training and was assigned to Korea.
However, the brothers did see each other again, once fighting the enemy across the road from each other.
Later, as a result of an accident, Johnny was sent to the states, which is when he learned that Richard was missing.
In December 1950, Richard was in Company D, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.
The United Nations forces were winning the war earlier in the year; they advanced well north of the 38th parallel. The UN military strategy changed with the firing of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, followed by the Chinese joining the North Koreans.
The Chinese People's Volunteer Forces (CPVF) staged mass attacks and UN troops were forced south. Positioned about 30 miles north of Seoul, South Korea at Uijong-bu, Richard's regiment was hunkered down on defense. On Dec. 14, 1950, a reconnaissance patrol was sent out, with Company D remaining in defensive positions. The CPVF attacked the unit, in a battle that lasted all night. By morning, Richard's unit prevailed and pushed back the enemy.
But as the unit prepared to move, Richard could not be located. At first he was reported AWOL (Absent With Out Leave), but that report was soon amended to Missing-in-Action (MIA) pending an eye-witness confirmation of death.
Through the months that followed, Command was alert for lists of possible POWs that were infrequently released by the North.
On Dec. 26, 1951, a year after his capture, North Korea sent out a propaganda broadcast with a list of soldiers' names of whom they had custody, reporting that Richard died in their camp.
Still the Army waited, because such reports out of the North were often found to be either false or mistaken. Proof was needed that Richard had indeed died. The Army needed a credible person to confirm his death. Until then, Richard was considered MIA.
The Army assumed Richard was a prisoner. They knew of horrific conditions which the captured soldiers were enduring. Reports from released POWs and other soldiers told of “death marches.” Richard was among soldiers on such a march that took four weeks from Uijong-bu, South Korea to Saun County -- a destination well north of the 38th parallel in North Korea.
In 20-30 degrees below-zero temperatures, wearing summer weight clothing, thousands of American soldiers died. Cholera and dysentery were common, coupled with scant rations.
At a make-do camp, captured soldiers were kept in crowded unheated sheds, standing so close they had to have shifts to sit down. No medical treatment was commonplace, with only rice soup every 48 hours for food. Water was even withheld. Repeated beatings wore the men down.
On occasion, there were prisoner and war dead exchanges. An exchanged soldier who was in a POW camp in Suan County, said he recalled Richard and he had died, inconclusively from Beriberi, a disease caused by a sparse diet and neglect.
When the Armistice was being negotiated in the fall of 1953, the Army released an official list, confirming Richard died on April 19, 1951, a day after his 22nd birthday. He suffered wounds in his arm from shrapnel in a battle before his death.
He was the recipient of two Purple Hearts: for being wounded and for giving the ultimate sacrifice.
Excavations lead to identification
In 1954, North Korea turned over 4,000 sets of remains, 2,900 were American war dead. Of those, 860 were deemed unidentifiable and later buried at Honolulu Hawaii National Cemetery, known as the Punch Bowl.
Richard's remains were not among them. That is when his remains were determined to be unrecoverable.
While that announcement was heartbreaking, it was not unusual. There are still 7,400 Americans who still remain missing from the Korean War, although some could be in American possession and not yet identified.
Between 17,000 and 18,000 Americans are still missing from World War II and there are 500 MIAs from the Vietnam War. Excavations are still underway.
Janette Gray said teams are periodically given permission to journey to North Korea to excavate battlegrounds and more recently former POW camps. The excavation teams are under heavy guard and restricted on where they can dig.
On May 28, 1992, the North sent 15 crates of remains. Initial optimism turned to dismay when it turned out the manifests were inaccurate and the remains were mostly commingled.
Gray said it has taken years to go through all of them, trying to match bones to individuals. All told, 208 crates from North Korea have been returned to the United States.
Sometimes, dental records and clavicle samples help identify a soldier. Gray said clavicles are as unique as fingerprints and if the soldier had a chest x-ray before deployment, a match could be made.
Richard apparently did not have such an x-ray, but part of his recovered bones included clavicles.
In 1997, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began using DNA to test remains, linking bones to families. The Seadore family was notified and Ella Mae, Al and Johnny gave DNA samples in their search for Richard.
Then in 1999-2000, a U.S. recovery team received permission to go into Suan County, North Korea, where Richard had been held and died. The excavation teams recovered some skeletal remains from the former camp, with the help of hired local villagers. The detailed report shows workers digging at the camp site, which had become a rice paddy.
Using a variety of scientific methods, a partial skeleton of Richard's remains was assembled. Some bones were from the crates of jumbled remains that were returned in 1992 and some bones from the Suan excavation. A positive ID was made on April 25, when Richard's DNA was determined to be a match to his brother Al's, using Paternal and Nuclear DNA samples, which matches father to son or brother to brother.
Richard's remains will be brought home with a full military escort and honors and returned to the family.
The graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. at the Grandview Cemetery at Long Pine on Aug. 4.
Shirley said she is glad for her mother. Richard's homecoming would have brought closure.
Al Seadore told Mike Wendorff of the Callaway Courier that even after 60 some years, he gets pretty emotional when he tells the story.
“I shared it in church Sunday and I called my two sons (and told them)," he said. “Yeah, after all these years, you wouldn't think it would touch home like that.”
The Seadore family sacrificed two sons to the cause of freedom -- Richard in Korea and Larry in Vietnam.
Although MIAs and POWs are sometimes forgotten, they are remembered always by their families, and in many cases, by their country.
(With appreciation to the Callaway Courier and Shirley Hitchcock.)