CUMBERLAND — Pfc. James R. Hare, U.S. Army, Battery B, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, was lost Feb. 13, 1951, near the Korean town of Hoengsong. On Feb. 13, 2013, exactly 62 years after he was classified as missing in action, the memory and service of a beloved son and brother will be honored, and he will be laid to rest near his parents with full military honors.
Hare was born in Cumberland in 1932, the first of 15 children to James and Opal Hare. He was just 19 years old when he joined the U.S. Army. After completing training at Camp Lejeune, he joined thousands of soldiers fighting in the Korean conflict in 1949.
While sporadic, his parents received letters from James, but soon the letters stopped and the fate of the eldest child was unclear.
After nearly two years of waiting, the Hares received a letter that indicated James had been captured by the North Koreans and had died.
“It was 1951, and I was just 12 years old when my parents learned that James had died of starvation at a POW camp,” Stanley Hare said.
He is the eldest of James’ surviving siblings and lives in Smithsburg.
“I remember well the shock of learning that brother Jim had been captured and died and was buried in a mass grave.”
Though devastated by the news, the family held out hope that James’ remains would be found and one day returned to his family for a proper burial. In the interim, James was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and POW Medal.
The Hare family suffered a second blow when their brother John was shot and killed by a sniper during the Vietnam War.
James Hare was among more than 7,000 U.S. troops unaccounted for during the Korean conflict. In 1993, the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office was created and charged with the task of recovering missing Americans from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War.
Shortly after the office was established, two members of the Hare family provided DNA for the recovery/identification efforts.
“My sister Frances and brother Bill donated DNA. Frances died eight years ago, but Bill lived long enough to know that James had been found,” Stanley said. “Mother passed away in 1958 and Dad died in 1984, but neither gave up hope that James would one day be found.”
According to the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, Hare was captured while the 2nd Infantry Division was supporting Republic of South Korea forces near Hoengsong. He was among 100 servicemen captured by enemy forces and was reported as missing in action on Feb. 13, 1951. During a prisoner exchange in 1953, U.S. officials learned more about Hare’s capture from a fellow soldier who reported that James had been taken to a POW camp in Suan County. The soldier stated that James had died of malnutrition in April of the same year.
Throughout the years, members of the Hare family were contacted by U.S. officials as work continued to find and identify the remains of soldiers who were killed in action or had died in POW camps.
“We were invited to meetings, but no one wanted to go until they had proof positive that James had been found,” said Stanley. “Time went on and we still hoped that James would be returned to us.”
That proof positive came more than 60 years later, on Dec. 19, when Stanley received a call from Michael Mee, chief of identifications at the Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs center at Fort Knox, Ky.
“Mr. Mee left a message on my answering machine that he had news for my family about James. I could hardly believe it, after all these years,” Stanley said. “I returned the call but told Michael that I wanted the rest of my family to be together when we heard the news. I wanted us to all be together to hear the complete story.”
Stanley coordinated a family meeting and one week later, the Hare family learned the remains of their brother had been positively identified through DNA analysis and would be returned for a proper burial.
“We met at Bill’s house and we talked about where to inter James’ remains. After a long discussion, we decided it was only right that he be buried with our parents in Levels, West Virginia.”
During the meeting, the Hare family learned James’ remains were found in boxes released by North Korea between 1991 and 1994 containing what officials initially believed were the remains of 200 soldiers. However, DNA testing revealed that remains of more than 450 soldiers were in those boxes.
“Finally, we had proof positive and we knew that we would finally be able to bring James home,” Stanley said.
The last month has been a time of great sadness and loss for the Hare family. Bill Hare died just weeks after learning that James had been positively identified through DNA he had provided.
Another sister, Deloris Burley, lives in Ellerslie. Though she was just a year old when James was captured, she said having James’ remains returned is something the family had “hoped and prayed for.”
“We are all so thankful that he has been found and returned. We now know what happened and we can have closure,” she said. “I wish our parents could be here for this — they never gave up hope.”
Burley said these last few months have been bittersweet. While glad that James will receive a proper burial, the family mourns his memory and is saddened that the parents and other siblings will not have the same opportunity to say goodbye.
“There are just eight of us left, but we have pulled together and we believe it is a blessing that we will be able to lay James to rest,” Stanley said. “It is a great honor to have this on my watch and be a part of this closure for my family. We always thought that one day maybe we could offer him a proper service, and that day has come. The Lord has seen to it that we can say goodbye and James has been brought home.”
The family will receive friends at the Scarpelli Funeral Home on Virginia Avenue today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral service will be conducted there Wednesday at 1 p.m.
With the motto “Keeping the Promise,” the U.S. government continues to work to recover the remains of the more than 83,000 missing members of the military.
For more information on the efforts of the DPMO, go to www.dtic.mil/dpmo.
Angie Brant can be reached at email@example.com.