Robert Vernon Estes (1931-1951): MIA, POW, Military Records – 52 Ancestors #239

When I first discovered that my father’s nephew, Robert Vernon Estes, was a prisoner of war in North Korea and died, probably of starvation, in their hands during his captivity, I was determined to discover as much as possible about Robert’s short life – and death. Maybe after all of these years more information would be available, although many of his records burned in the Records Center fire in St Louis in 1973.

I asked Twisted Twigs and Gnarled Branches to find and obtain as many of his military records as possible, from as many sources as possible.

I felt that this is the very least I could do for Robert, known as Bobby in the family, 68 years after he was robbed of life by an inhumane enemy.

Killed in warfare is one thing – but starvation is another. I just don’t understand how humans WITH food could deprive other starving humans – to the point of death. How could they not only observe that horrific suffering, but be responsible for inflicting it willfully upon the miserable and dying who were probably begging for any morsel of food?

That’s not war – it’s torture, pure and simple.

Bobby’s Records

The packet of information arrived in an e-mail from Twisted Twigs while I was speaking at a conference last week. I was almost afraid to open the document for fear of what might be inside, but I had to know.

The first record reveals the date that Bobby’s Missing in Action (MIA) status was communicated to his family. He became MIA and was taken prisoner on November 30th, 1950 but the family wasn’t notified until January 4th, 1951 using message “68.”

Robert Vernon Estes record 1

MyHeritage shows that Bobby was a truck driver.

Robert Vernon Estes record 2

I was hopeful that the MyHeritage yearbook collection would include Bobby’s photo, but neither Bobby nor his brother Charles is shown in any yearbook from their collection. I called the local Monon library as well, and while there are some years missing in the Monon yearbook collection, there are also years present where Bobby should have been included. Perhaps the Estes boys attended a different school system, or maybe they dropped out early to farm. In any case, sadly, there is no known photo of Bobby.

Joseph Dode Estes in WWI.jpg

The closest I can get is a photo of Joseph “Dode” Estes, Bobby’s father, taken during WWI. Bobby probably looked something like Joe.

Bobby was an Army Corporal, promoted during his captivity. His address was given as Route 1 in Monon, Indiana, which indicates that he lived in the country.

Robert Vernon Estes record 3.png

Bobby’s mother, Lucille Latta, had remarried to Harry Stockdale in 1941. She died at age 45 of a stroke on August 18, 1952 where her obituary states that Robert is MIA and had been since November 30, 1950.

Robert Vernon Estes record 4

Lucille was not notified in person that Bobby was missing, but by an impersonal letter, even after a several weeks delay.

Robert Vernon Estes record 5

Robert Vernon Estes record 6Robert Vernon Estes record 7Robert Vernon Estes record 8

My heart aches to think about Lucille opening this letter. Did she know as soon as she saw the envelope in the mailbox, standing on that country road that cold January day?

By the time the military sent the letter, Bobby had been missing for all of December and into January. By the time his mother received it, another week or so.

Did Lucille wonder why she hadn’t received any mail from Bobby, especially given the Christmas holiday? Or was mail so scarce from the front that no mail was normal?

Unbeknownst to the family, Bobby had probably been starving since his capture, was laboring in a mining camp, and may have already died by the time this letter reached his mother.

Did her mother’s sixth sense tell her that her son was in trouble and was being tortured?

All Lucille could do was wait half a world away.

Robert Vernon Estes record 9

By June, even though Lucille wasn’t aware, the military was requesting dental information which suggests that they had no information that he was alive. They probably had no information at all.

1952

In June of 1952, Lucille was apparently very frustrated with the lack of response from the military and engaged her elected representatives for assistance.

Robert Vernon Estes record 10

Based on dates, letters seemed to have crossed in the mail.

Robert Vernon Estes record 11Robert Vernon Estes record 12

Lucille just wanted Bobby’s things, whatever remained with the military. He certainly couldn’t use them whether he was missing, dead or in captivity.

At this point, Lucille didn’t know if he had been captured or killed. What she did know was that he didn’t reappear after being considered MIA, so he wasn’t just lost, injured or displaced.

Robert Vernon Estes record 13Robert Vernon Estes record 14

Bobby’s personal items were going to come home. Lucille, as a mother, would have been hopeful that Bobby would return home too, eventually.

Robert Vernon Estes record 15Robert Vernon Estes record 16

The letter to Lucille’s Congressman was written by the Army a few days before the letter to her.

Robert Vernon Estes record 17Robert Vernon Estes record 18

“Period of anxiety.” That’s an incredible understatement.

Robert Vernon Estes record 19Robert Vernon Estes record 20

Finally!

Robert Vernon Estes record 21

It’s interesting to note that Lucille’s Congressional inquiry did serve to expedite things.

Robert Vernon Estes record 22

Dirty towels and worn, torn socks. Lucille probably cherished them since they carried part of Bobby.

Apparently, these items had been sitting someplace since April.

Robert Vernon Estes record 23

The shipment inventory of effects is dated May 16, 1952.

Robert Vernon Estes record 24

These few items were sent to Bobby’s mother. The bottom items appear to have been sent in July, but the top 2 were sent in a second, later, shipment.

In October of 1952, the Army requested his dental information, again.

Robert Vernon Estes record 25

Lucille died in August 1952. When I made that discovery, I wondered if the stress of Bobby’s captivity in any way contributed to her early death of a stroke.

Bobby’s Bible and “misc brass” weren’t returned until after Lucille had passed away.

Robert Vernon Estes record 26Robert Vernon Estes record 27

Given that Lucille had died, Harry wrote to the military on her behalf.

Robert Vernon Estes record 28Robert Vernon Estes record 29Robert Vernon Estes record 30

Where’s Joseph “Dode” Estes?

Reading this letter from Harry, I realized that no-place in Bobby’s records is his father, Joseph “Dode” Estes either mentioned or communicated with. In fact, it’s Bobby’s step-father who wrote this letter, which leads me to wonder about the absence of Dode.

Where was Bobby’s father and why was he not involved at some level? One would think the military would communicate with a father before a step-father, although Harry married Lucille when Bobby was 10 years old.

The Estes family knew, at least eventually, that Bobby had died. Somehow, someplace, Joe had been told. I noticed in one of my father’s records that the authorities in Lafayette, Indiana in 1938 were asking my father if he had seen Joe. My father stated that he had not seen Joe since the previous Christmas at their mother’s house in Chicago.

This makes me wonder if Joe was in some sort of legal trouble.

Regardless, it tells us that by 1938, Joe was not in the area, assuming my father was truthful, which might not be a valid assumption.

Joe Estes 1940

This September 1940 newspaper clipping tells us that Lucille and Joe were getting divorced and had been separated for a decade. In fact, their separation date is in September 1930 and Bobby’s birth date is March 27, 1931, telling us that they separated when Lucille was 3 months pregnant. Joe may never have been involved much in Bobby’s life.

In 1926, Joe had been in trouble for stealing a car, although he wasn’t convicted because the prosecution’s witness failed to appear.

However, in February 1930, Joe was jailed due to intoxication.

Joe Estes 1930

The State Penal Farm isn’t the local jail, so this sentence must have been non-trivial, although we know he had been released by late June 1930 when Bobby was conceived.

On September 27, 1930, Joe went to jail once again for stealing chickens.

Joe Estes chicken thief

This date coincides with the separation date in Lucille’s divorce pleading. She had had enough, pregnant or not. Joe was still in jail, unless he accrued “good time,” when Bobby was born.

The daughter of Bobby’s brother, Charles, told me years ago that Charles remembered that, as a child, between the ages of 8-10, a group of men with guns came and took Joe away in a vehicle. If Charles’ memory is accurate, that would put this event between 1935 and 1937. The family was shrouded in secrets, and Charles, born in 1927, didn’t see Joe again until he was an adult and somehow found his father.

Aunt Margaret sent a photo of Joe in San Pedro, California in 1942.

Estes, Joe Dode 1942 Dan Pedro Ca..jpg

Joe’s location in 1950/51 is a mystery but Aunt Margaret’s letter says that prior to her mother’s death in 1955, she had been sending Joe money to help with his medical bills. He had reportedly been hit by a car in Indiana or near Chicago. My father thought Joe had died, either then or eventually, as did the rest of the family. Joe didn’t pass away until 1988 in Fairfield, Illinois.

Another of Margaret’s letters places Joe in Claiborne County, Tennessee in 1957.

“I also chewed him out in 57 when Ed and I visited Eppersons and Dode was working in the cain patch after telling me he was down and couldn’t get up. We went after him and when Aunt Corny Epperson told me Joe had come there splurging money received from his son’s death in the armed service – yet crying hard luck to me, I flipped my lid and really laid him out flat with a good lecture.”

Unfortunately, there are no records regarding payment of any funds related to Bobby’s death.

1953

Robert Vernon Estes record 31Robert Vernon Estes record 32

Bobby’s Bible wasn’t returned until after Lucille died. $1.47 and a Bible – all the makings of an appropriately sad country song.

Robert Vernon Estes record 33

The Bible was worn from usage. I hope Bobby found solace and comfort there.

Robert Vernon Estes record 34

The months must have dragged on for Harry after Lucille’s death and the interminable waiting on word about Bobby’s whereabouts.

Hopefully, Bobby was just a prisoner of war and would be released or exchanged after the war ended. If Harry was a praying man, that would have been his daily prayer.

The Korean conflict ended in 1953. Other men who were missing and actually POWs were released, but still nothing about Bobby.

1954

Then the inevitable…

Robert Vernon Estes record 35

Word had come that Bobby was dead, not informed by the Koreans diplomatically, but from a friend of another soldier who had direct knowledge of Bobby’s death. The soldier grapevine.

And then this entry in Bobby’s file.

Robert Vernon Estes record 36Another antiseptic letter. You’d think a personal visit would have been much more respectful to deliver this type of devastating news.

Robert Vernon Estes record 37Robert Vernon Estes record 38

Word came, albeit through the grapevine, that Bobby had died of dysentery and pneumonia. I have to wonder if this was secondary to starvation, or his body was unable to heal due to lack of food. We know that other men died of starvation in these camps days on either side of Bobby’s death.

Clearly, the North Koreans were not interested in the health and welfare of their captives – or even basic human decency.

The money that Joe was spending that he received from Bobby’s death was likely Bobby’s pay for the time that he was captured in November 1950 until he was declared dead in January 1954. Bobby’s pay would have been $83.20 per month, plus $8 for foreign duty pay as a private, and slightly more as a corporal. That promotion was actually posthumous.

Three years and a couple months pay was certainly a windfall to Bobby’s father, equivalent to about $30,500 today. One family member said Joe purchased a restaurant in Tazewell, Tennessee, but I found no documentation of that rumor.

This card in Bobby’s file documents the source of the determination that he had died.

Robert Vernon Estes record 39Robert Vernon Estes record 40Robert Vernon Estes record 41

“The Letter,” direct, to the point, short and final.

Robert Vernon Estes record 42Robert Vernon Estes record 43

Pneumonia – not starvation directly – although other men did starve at this camp during this time.

I wonder if the family actually accepted this letter as final. If one wanted to continue to hope, there is enough ambiguity with the notification being a friend of a friend that one could possibly refuse to abandon hope. Lucille was gone, Harry as a step-parent might have been more accepting, but I wonder about Bobby’s brother, Charles.

Robert Vernon Estes record 44Robert Vernon Estes record 45Robert Vernon Estes record 46

An identical letter was sent to Charles, Bobby’s brother, but nothing was sent to Bobby’s father. The military may have had no information about Joe. Joe was known to drink and was reported to have been hit by a car, incurring amnesia. Joe could also have been in jail someplace. The Estes men of Joe’s generation were not known for their good behavior.

1956

January 1956 brought this letter.

Robert Vernon Estes record 47Robert Vernon Estes record 48Robert Vernon Estes record 49Robert Vernon Estes record 50

Nonrecoverable.

Such a final verdict.

Bobby was held in North Korea, not in the DMZ. The Koreans never tracked their prisoners, never informed anyone of their capture, and never kept records of their location, treatment, deaths or burials. Bobby may be in a mass grave someplace with the other men that died each day.

In short, the Koreans never had any intention of these men surviving to release.

Bobby’s remains would never leave Korean soil. He is literally buried at the feet of his tortuous captors.

The only saving grace is that Lucille had joined Bobby and she already knew. She no longer cared about bodies.

Mining Camps

I narrowed the possible POW camps based on the description of the camp where Bobby was held as a mining camp which helped immensely. I found the following candidates.

  • Pukchin Mining Camp – between Kunu-ri and Pyoktong – (aka. Death Valley Camp).
  • Suan Mining Camp – P’yong-yang
  • Koksan Mining Camp

Based on the location, near Kunu-ri where Bobby was captured, he was most likely at the Pukchin Camp, also known as the Death Valley Camp.

I wish Bobby’s records had said specifically where he was held and died. Surely Eugene Inman, the soldier who provided the death information, knew.

Eugene provided the following description of the Death Valley Camp in the book, American POWs in Korea, Sixteen Personal Accounts.

Robert Vernon Estes Death Valley Camp

Eugene Inman, POW

Eugene Inman was the soldier and fellow POW who informed the military that Bobby had died. Eugene and Bobby were in the same unit when they were captured.

Eugene Inman is honored as a veteran and former Korean POW on this page. I want to thank Mr. Inman, now deceased, for his sacrifices and for telling the story of his capture and subsequent POW experience – which is also Bobby’s story.

I am quoting the full portions of Eugene’s biography relevant to Bobby, below, because Bobby can’t tell his own story:

I served with the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, 9th Infantry Ret. I saw action in various parts of Korea from the Naktong River Line in last of July-Aug. 1950 as a member of an RCT plugging holes here and there under highly stressed and traumatic scenes until Chongchon River Line in November 1950.

The early activities in July were struggles to beat back probing and breakthrough efforts of the Koreans. Then my capture running the gauntlet at the pass in the Kunu-ri-Sunchon roadblock of the Kuni-ri area November 30, 1950, when the Chinese entered the conflict. Years of torment and abuse followed, thinking only of survival. Finally my freedom when I was repatriated at “Big Switch,” crossing “Freedom Bridge” Aug. 30, 1953.

The last week or so before capture was very difficult and dangerous. The extreme cold and confusion of the ambushes at roadblocks had cut us off from our own lines. At the time of capture we were separated from the main company, and my outfit was cut off by the enemy forces. Resultant conditions forced our surrender by ones, twos and small handfuls. Broken up into small groups we were to seek our own way out. We were out of ammunition and supplies, and the way to our lines was totally blocked. As the battle of Kunu-ri receded, there were many wounded and dead lying on all sides of us on the hillsides, on the road and in the ditches. The pass was blocked with all kinds of equipment, a mass of destroyed junk.

We were gathered up and placed into a holding area of animal sheds and vacant huts without any protection from the cold. The chill factor drove the cold deep into our bodies to the point that it was debilitating pain and restricted movement, thinking and reaction. The weather was at its worst, for the area was mountainous and it was bitter cold. The temperature was well below zero, in the 30- below-or-more area.

We lost all our warm clothing we had to the enemy who took off of us whatever they wanted. I was left with only light clothing, a field jacket being the heaviest article with a fatigue cap and a tattered scarf. I used the scarf, which was very long, to wrap around my face and neck covering all the exposed area I could. My breath caused a layer of ice to form from my jaw down to my waist. It acted somewhat as an insulator in the area it formed. There was no real protection from the extreme cold, even the equipment, rifles, machine guns, trucks, jeeps and most things with oil turned to glue in the punishing cold refusing to function.

We were forced to march under these frightening conditions for 15 or so days from sundown to sunup. We walked without food, and as we passed civilians they would stone us. Many of the stones found their mark and caused serious injuries. The police and home guard were especially brutal. The wounded and the exhausted among us began to suffer. It was unbelievable. If they fell out and could not go on they were indiscriminately shot, bayoneted, or clubbed to death. During the march we truly had no shelter from the elements, and food, as such was provided, only on irregular intervals of days. It consisted of cracked corn and sometimes was mixed with soybeans. This kind of food did two things to me on each intake; (1) a case of dysentery, fever, bowel discharge of mucus and blood. I was always thirsty, that never really stopped, (2) abdominal cramps and rectal pain. No time of the day or night freed one from the constant urge to purge oneself.

In what I believe was the month December in 1950 we arrived in a deserted mining town in the Pukchin area. The place was called “Death Valley.” We faced the inclement weather, lack of shelter, food, death, and the attempts to indoctrinate us, with “Marxism” given in small groups. It was here that various conditions of fear, beatings and death of many from lack of proper food, potable water and bowel discharge of mucus and blood increased. It took a large toll in lives.

The huts and animal shelters were made from mud, stones and thatched roofs. The room was made of dried mud and the floors were large flat rocks and mud. The rooms were extremely small and we were packed into them in such a manner as to have no room to rest. It seemed that every time a guard wanted to express his anger at the world in general and me in particular he would strike, shove or kick me in the same areas and I never seemed to completely heal. The favorite areas for the guards on the march and/or in the camps seemed to be the arms, shoulders, leg joints and back area.

These areas always seemed to be re-injured by the repeated hits and falls when carrying heavy wood products in the slippery ice and snow.

We left the “Valley” and marched to Camp Five at Pyoktong, arriving Dec 25,1950. I stayed there until Aug 12, 1952. The cold in the marches and food of poorest quality of whole kernel corn, sometimes mixed with soybeans, given every 24 to 72 hours didn’t help matters either. There was little change in food to corn and millet with a little rice on special days. But still men died of starvation.

Then the camp authorities added bean curd and seaweed, which helped those not too weak to make a recovery. Malnutrition was very ghastly in the period from Jan. 1951 to August 1952. I experienced profound changes in the condition of my body. My ankles and legs swelled, and the pain in time became acute. This “bone ache” pain was not in the swelling but seemed to center in the very bones that no rubbing or any other efforts could relieve.

This condition never seemed to let up. It acted up through the day and at night followed up by leg cramps. Then the work details began with long trips to carry wood back on my person over ice and snow causing many slips and falls causing much pain to my extremities. The pain drove me with the insanity of it, to argue and/or resist the camp authorities. It was at this time a guard knocked out some of my teeth when I failed to satisfy him. I was made to stand at the proper figure of attention in the cold and snow, without shoes until the guard was satisfied that I learned to be humble and obedient after knocking me around.

I could barely read these words, dreading each next one, because I knew that Bobby’s experience was even worse. He died. It would have been better, more humane, had Bobby been killed outright.

The Korean War Legacy Foundation provides additional information on the Korean War, including interviews with former POWs, here. I will tell you that I cannot watch these at this point. If any of you watch the videos, please tell me if by some remote possibility, Bobby is mentioned, which video, and where.

Honoring Corporal Robert Vernon Estes

The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains a page honoring each missing soldier in addition to operating and maintaining military cemeteries.

Robert Vernon Estes memorial page.png

Bobby’s page lists his service and military awards. I wonder if anyone in the family ever received those.

Robert Vernon Estes memorial.png

Family can print Memorial Certificates.

Robert Vernon Estes wall.jpg

Photo of Bobby’s name, along with others in “Court 4” of the missing.

I’m glad his service to his country is memorialized.

Epilogue

I believe I have all of Bobby’s extant records from the military now. Anything else will have to be accomplished using DNA on recovered remains, if we would be that fortunate.

More than 7,800 men were lost who remain unrecovered in North Korea. Eugene’s story explains why, given the conditions. Many POWs were probably not buried in “graves,” per se, but along roads and wherever was expeditious at the time to dispose of a body.

I’m still hopeful, in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, that Bobby’s remains will be found, identified and brought home. He did reportedly die in a “camp,” although North Korea never acknowledged that soldiers were held at Pukchin, shown below. In an effort to conceal the site, bodies were removed from the camp known as “Death Valley” and were reburied or sealed up in nearly abandoned mine shafts.

Robert Vernon Estes Pukchin location

Bobby’s remains, such as they are, are probably someplace in this photo in North Korea, far, far from home.

Robert Vernon Estes North Korea Pukchin

Pukchin is located about 40 mountainous miles south of the North Korean border with China as the crow flies, in an inhospitable region. Access is only via roads following rivers and valleys.

I don’t carry Bobby’s mitochondrial DNA, typically used to identify the remains of soldiers, but I assuredly would match him autosomally if enough DNA could be recovered for that type of comparison.

I stand ready to claim Bobby, for whom I was named after the family was notified of his death.

Ready to welcome Bobby home and watch his flag covered coffin roll off of the airplane into a waiting Honor Guard.

Ready to thank Bobby for his service and ultimate sacrifice, as tardy and insignificant as that might be.

Ready to proudly stand at his grave site as Taps is played and Bobby is truly laid to rest, a hero, on American soil.

I will remain ready all the days of my life.

I still pray for the return of Corporal Robert Vernon Estes.

Robert Vernon Estes name wall.jpg

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22 thoughts on “Robert Vernon Estes (1931-1951): MIA, POW, Military Records – 52 Ancestors #239

  1. My heart is so heavy reading this tribute to your uncle and namesake. I have so much I’d like to share with you, but will save that for another time.
    My own father, Sgt Wm Edward Crowley lies in the Pacific near Yap Island since July 15,1944, after his B-24 collided with another on a bombing mission that day.
    His name is on the Wall of the Missing in Manila. But I also have provided a marker for him at Ft Rosecrans Natl Cem here in San Diego. Did you know you could request that Bobby have a marker – and memorial ceremony – at any national cemetery?
    https://benefits.va.gov/benefits/ May Bobby rest in peace.
    And thank you for sharing that story with us. Freedom is not free.

    • No, I had no idea. His next of kin is all gone. I hope I can request a marker for him. This article was really difficult for me to write. I’m sure you understand that first hand. I’m sorry for the loss of your father.

      • And another important thing just came to me re your mtDNA not being useful. About 15 years ago, the DoD would not take sample from daughters. But three(?) years ago at one of the regular Family Updates from Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency http://www.dpaa.mil they took my sample! Perhaps you could arrange it and also be put on the list for notifications about Family Updates. Sharon

          • I would encourage you to get on DPAAs list and submit DNA. They may also have other records for you and give you the updates. They will not do a full research project and get Morning REports, Payroll and unit records – but will give you what pertains to attempting to identify him. What Twisted Twigs gave you is his IDPF but there are many other records from NPRC beyond his likely burned service file and NARA unit records and POW records that may shed more light on what happened. I’ve read hundreds of IDPFs and learned a lot, especially about the gaps you describe in correspondence or why things took as long as they did. There are articles about this and graves registration and IDPFs on my website. If you want to read about other resources, there are articles on my website – The WWII Research & Writing Center. http://wwiirwc.com – there are other records you can still get to fill in the gaps.

  2. Wow-Roberta, another powerful story that the world now knows because of your persistent and thorough research. The Korean War is so often forgotten, but the hardships our soldiers experienced keeping democracy safe is no less than that of more well-known conflicts. Thank you for sharing this painful story, and all the documents that helped tell it. They show us how painful it is for military families then and now as well. Please accept my condolences, and thank you for memorializing Robert for all the world to know.

  3. The Korean War is called “The Forgotten War”. My dad was there, credited with 2 tours. He was lucky. He returned with his life and his sanity. He made the military a career. He was assigned to Army engineer battalions most of his 20-year career. In Korea, he was in a unit that built pontoon bridges and when the UN forces retreated back into South Korea, the U.S. Army would blow the bridges up.

    I was born in France and one of our neighbors there was a Capt. Joe Harrison from Beaufort, SC (born in SE VA). He was a Korean War POW survivor. I don’t remember many of the details, but forced marches and starvation was a part of the POW’s daily life while in captivity. He was skin and bones when he was returned to the U.S. military authorities. I cherish a photo I have of me sitting in Joe’s lap playing with his cigarette lighter.

    Regarding notification of next of kin, when my dad was in Vietnam, in the first half of 1966, a soldier from his unit was killed on the way back to his unit between Saigon and Cam Rahn Bay. His wife was a French native and she was notified of her husband’s death. She requested his remains be sent back to her home town in France. His parents were not notified of this. When they found out, a big enough stink was raised that the Department of Defense changed their policy so that both parents and spouses were notified if their military service member was KIA.

    Salute to your uncle, may he R.I.P. I’m grateful for his service and sorry he made the ultimate sacrifice.

  4. I share your sorrow as a dear friend of mine is still somewhere in North Korea. Perhaps someday he will return home.

  5. My late husband spent two and a half years as a “guest” of the North Koreans and later on the Chinese. He was in the USMC, took part in the Inchon Landing and was part of the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir. He had “borrowed” a jeep to visit an Army friend when he was captured. He was marched north through Seoul and Pyonyang up to one of the Chinese Camps (Camp 3 – Ch’ang-Song) on the South Bank of the Yalu River. He was released during Operation Big Switch.

    • Rosemary, it’s great to hear from you again. Thank you for sharing your memories. That must have been a very difficult time. I’m so glad he survived although what he underwent must have been horrific. Bless both of you.

  6. I keep my family history stories relatively short because “I think” no one will read them, and yet, I read every single word of yours, each-and-every-time! Some of them move me to tears; Bobby’s sure did. Thank you, namesake for sharing him with us.

  7. Roberta,
    I am in awe of reading this article. I enjoy reading all of your articles. I have learned so much about different things about DNA and still learning more every day.
    I have read this article a couple of times and yes it just does not seem like it is enough to memorialize your Father’s Nephew to see his name written on a stone. This article I feel is just the stepping stone to do so. I hope you will write more on him as time goes by due to I am very interested in learning more about him any knowing about his story.
    I myself come from long lines of military men and myself am a retired Navy Veteran. I was in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.
    I have found that War is a very complicated thing. Some just try to romanticize it but actually it is very terrifying and terrible to see the atrocities that occur from it. I have seen few atrocities from the Gulf War and have tried many times to shove it in the depths of my mind in order to forget, but needless to say they do come back.
    I too have a 1st Cousin once removed that was killed in action…he was on the USS Edsel in WWII….I discovered him through my Father’s Adopted Father’s line. He belonged to my Grandfather’s Brother…his son. He to has a grave site in Utah even though he is not there but lies at the bottom of the ocean somewhere between Japan and Indonesia. I know that my cousin will never be brought home to lay to rest but I hope you will be able to bring your cousin home one day. God bless and keep us informed on this. Love your articles.
    Fair Winds and Following Seas to your cousin and I thank him for his service in the endeavor of our freedom.

    Regards

    Cindy Carrasco
    Retired MR1 (SW)

    • Correction, my cousin belong the my Great Grandfather’s Brother. Sorry about that little mix up…I get excited about family tree lines and they all just run together

  8. Hi Roberta,
    Wonderful tribute to Bobby. It’s so great that you were able to get all that information on him to do such a thorough story, particularly given that so many of his records were burned. I too hope that he can come home some day.
    I may have missed something in the story but I was wondering if it’s possible that Bobby is not Joe’s son. Joe and his wife had been separated for ten years and Joe was not around much. Maybe the fact that she was pregnant was the last straw for one or both of them and the pregnancy finally precipitated the divorce.

  9. I hope you get “to proudly stand at his grave site as Taps is played and Bobby is truly laid to rest, a hero, on American soil.” Very touching and sad story. Thanks for sharing. SALUTE & RIP Corporal Robert V. Estes!

  10. Roberta,

    Thank you for sharing the story of Robert V. Estes and the the pain his family endured as a result of his death. His spirit lives on in many ways, and hopefully his remains will be recovered and properly put to rest.

    I am a retired Army officer, and reading your story brought to mind a few thoughts to share with you.

    Award of the Purple Heart:

    Corporal Estes died in the service of our country while on active duty. He should be awarded the Purple Heart. You posted the webpage from the American Battle Monuments Commission that reflected his awards. Assuming the ribbons and medals listed on the page are complete and accurate, he is due an award of the Purple Heart Medal. There is a possibility that he was awarded one, and it isn’t reflected on the memorial page. You can double check for the award by looking over the DD-214 (or other similar document) that should have been included in the materials your received concerning his Army service. Prisoners of war that died in captivity are subject to the Award of the Purple Heart Medal. Here is the latest Executive Order that contains the criteria.

    https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/01/17/2017-01164/amending-executive-order-11016-to-update-eligibility-criteria-for-award-of-the-purple-heart

    You have sufficient supporting documentation to have the Army begin the process for the award. Send the request to:

    Army HRC
    Attn: AHRC-PDP-A
    1600 Spearhead Div Ave
    Fort Knox, KY 40122

    I doubt if you have to be a next of kin to get the ball rolling for this award.

    Requesting Military Files:

    Twisted Twigs and Gnarled Branches sounds like a great service. However, a direct request for Military files can be ordered from the National Personal Record Center with either a letter or a FS-180 Form. This is nothing more than a Freedom of Information Act request. Sometimes the NMRC has a charge per page, but I have been lucky with no charges a few times. I have discovered during my genealogy work a few cousins that died in war and I have requested their military records. My understanding is that a son or daughter or other next of kin, with proof of the relationship, can receive a very detailed military file, as was the case with my mother and father’s records. For other requests it has been the bare bones records, but enough to help me understand their time in service and untimely death. I try to share my findings on the appropriate online family trees so their sacrifice will not go unnoticed and live on for generations in successive family trees.

    Here is the link:

    https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/standard-form-180.html

    (I have also received my Fathers Civilian Conservation Corps records from the National Archives. Very insightful window into my father’s time before the military.)

    Notification of Death to Survivors:

    By no means am I an expert on notification procedures of military deaths. (I did participate in one notification early on my career. in the early ’70s, a soldier from a remote Alaskan village died in Germany. I was part of the aircrew that made a six hour helicopter flight from Fairbanks transporting the notification officer to the village.) However, my understanding is that the Army did not begin using an established process with Notification Officers until early 1966. Prior to that time, notification was through telegrams and mail. The correspondence from the Army that you shared fits that pre 1966 policy.

    The reason the policy changed in part was due to the Battle of la Drang. The 2002 movie, “We Were Soldiers” depicted this battle. The unit that fought the battle, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry sustained 79 men killed, 125 wounded in action over a three days of intense fighting against the North Vietnamese Army.

    The unit had recently deployed from Ft. Benning, Georgia, leaving their families of married soldiers at Ft. Benning in government housing, or in nearby Columbus, Georgia. Taxi cab drivers were hired and dispatched to deliver the telegrams informing of death or combat injuries to the wives. It soon became so painful for the cab drivers that they became drunk so to make their job easier and wash away their pain. It was a terrible experience for the next of kin having a taxi driver, possibly drunk, hand the notification of death over to a wife and family. Soon afterwards, the Army’s death notification policy was reviewed and changed.

    Anyway, I appreciate your writings, and please keep the good work coming.

    RIP CPL Robert V. Estes

  11. I worked with a Vernon Estes in General Electric, Bridgeport, Connecticut in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was a gentleman, with a great sense of humor. Very smart and fun to work with. Don’t know if he is related to this particular person; but, thought I’d let you know about the ‘Vern’ Estes I knew. He was one of my managers in the Corporate Engineering and Manufacturing department.

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