One Of Our Own -- A Korean War Pilot MIA For Decades, Is
More than a half-century
after North Korean fighter jets shot down U.S. Air Force Capt. Troy
"Gordie" Cope's F-86 Sabre Jet over Danong, China, his family
finally has official word of what happened to him and is preparing
to bury him this May.
Chris Cope, who was born too late to ever know his uncle, calls
this homecoming an extraordinary example of the U.S. military's
longstanding commitment to bringing its fallen servicemembers home
so they can be returned to their families.
It's a promise Army Brig. Gen. W. Montague Winfield, head of the
Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii,
says the nation will carry out "no matter how long it takes" or how
challenging the circumstances.
In Cope's case, that took decades of keen detective work,
intense political negotiations, a month-long recovery operation,
and state-of-the-art identification technology -- all fueled by
Cope took off from Kimpo Air Base, South Korea, on Sept. 16,
1952, as part of a fighter sweep to protect other U.S. air missions
across North Korea. The flight headed north toward "MiG Alley," an
area near the Yalu River that separates North Korea from China.
Cope and his wingman,
Capt. Karl Dittmer, encountered four MiG-15 aircraft near Yalu and
engaged in a ferocious aerial dogfight. Dittmer was able to chase
away several of the MiGs but lost radio and visual contact with
Cope in the dense clouds.
For the next 52 years, Cope was listed as "missing in action,"
efforts to get information about him from the Chinese and North
Korean governments hitting a brick wall.
Chris Cope said he never knew his uncle, but grew up hearing
much about him from his family, particularly his father, Air Force
Maj. Carl Cope, who served as a pilot during World War II.
"They never gave up hope of finding out what happened to him,"
Cope told the American Forces Press Service.
Yet for many years, the family struggled with the difficulty of
not knowing the missing airman's fate and wondering if they ever
would. "To see what my dad and his brothers went through, I can
tell you that the 'not knowing' portion is just devastating," Chris
In 1988, the family, fearing they might never find the closure
they so desperately wanted, held a memorial service in Norfolk,
Ark. Now, 17 years later, the family is again making plans to honor
Gordie Cope -- but this time with an actual burial at a military
cemetery in Plano, Texas, on May 31.
A chance observation by an American tourist and increased
cooperation between China and the United States on POW and MIA
cases helped provided the break in DoD's investigation of the Cope
In 1995, a U.S. businessman traveling in Dandong, visited the
military museum there and noticed a display that included Cope's
military dog tag, as well as those of two other U.S.
servicemembers. The businessman copied the information and reported
it to U.S. authorities.
Again, repeated inquiries to both the Chinese and North Korean
governments came up with no new information.
But four years later, analysts working for the Defense POW/MIA
Personnel Office discovered documents about Cope's shootdown in
archives in Podolsk, Russia.
Their records search, possible through an agreement with the
U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs established in 1992,
revealed extensive details about the case, according to Norm Kass,
who directs the office's Russia division.
Included were statements and drawings by the Russian pilots
flying the MiG-15s for the North Koreans and detailed reports about
the ground search carried out by Russian and Chinese officials at
the crash site.
Now armed with enough information to launch a recovery mission,
government went to the Chinese and got the green light to move
In May 2004, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command sent a team of
specialists to Dandong to excavate the site. There, they carried
out a month-long mission, recovering human remains and aircraft
parts at the crash site.
Chris Cope flew to China to observe the first two weeks of the
mission. "This was just too significant not to be a part of," he
Cope said he was "elated" when the team began uncovering items
they believed belonged to his uncle, including a size 8 boot heel.
"There was no question in my mind that we had found Gordie's
remains," he said.
But the military requires far more concrete evidence before
making an official identification. They returned the Joint POW/MIA
Accounting Command headquarters in Hawaii in July 2004 and went to
work at the command's Central Identification Laboratory, which uses
state-of-the-art techniques to help determine the identity of
In just over three months, the lab staff was able to positively
identify Gordie Cope, and Air Force officials notified the
Chris Cope said the resolution of his uncle's case brings
tremendous relief to his family and proof that the military lives
up to its commitment to make every effort to bring a missing
He said there's "no question" that the military went the extra
measure to resolve an extremely complicated, longstanding case.
As the family plans the funeral -- to be held just one day after
Memorial Day and exactly one year after Chris Cope observed the
recovery operation in China -- Cope said he plans to invite four
other families of missing servicemembers to attend.
"During the funeral, we want to pay tribute to them," Cope said.
He's hopeful his own family's story will give them hope that their
loved ones' fates will also be resolved.
"This sends a message to never lose hope," he said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs Jerry
D. Jennings led a delegation to China to thank the Chinese for
their help and to explore more opportunities for the two countries
to work together on POW and MIA cases. Among issued discussed were
options for reviewing documents related to POW camps where
Americans were held during the Korean War.
Jennings said "there's much more work to be done," but added
he's confident that the just-concluded discussions "will move us
forward on several cases." [ANN Thanks Donna Miles, American Forces
God Bless You, Captain... and welcome home. A
thankful nation awaits your homecoming with pride and