Old photo, DNA search revive mystery of missing soldier

December 01, 1999

Search for MeyersBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


MONT ALTO, Pa. - The search for relatives to provide DNA samples to match against remains of U.S. servicemen has revived a mystery as to the fate of a Franklin County man who disappeared during the Korean War.

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The Department of Defense lists Robert Earl Meyers of Greencastle, Pa., as missing in action, but a widely circulated photograph from 1951 identifies him in a group of prisoners of war from Pennsylvania.

His sisters and brother and a man who was with him when their unit was ambushed by Chinese troops all say the face staring out of the yellowed newsclipping is that of Meyers, who the Army said disappeared on or about Dec. 1, 1950, in a battle near the North Korean village of Kunu-ri.


"I said, 'My God, there's Bobby,'" Jack Mummert of Maugansville, Md., said when he first saw the picture 48 years ago. The caption for the picture, which appeared in The Morning Herald in March 1951, lists Meyers by name. Mummert was a boyhood friend who also served in the same unit during the war.

The caption identified the picture, which also appeared in the New York Daily News and other newspapers, as coming "from enemy sources."

Robert Meyers?

Shirley Suders, Shelva Moats and Richard Meyers believe the man pictured in the middle of a yellowed newspaper clipping (shown above) is their brother, Robert Earl Meyers.

They first saw the picture in The Morning Herald in March 1951.

Shelva Moats, Shirley Suders and Richard Meyers also believe the man in the picture is their brother. Finding the answer to the mystery became the mission of their late father, Raymond K. Meyers.

Meyers was 17 when he joined the Army in 1949. Because he was under age, Mummert said it was Meyers' mother, Grace, who signed the papers allowing him to enlist.

"As a joke I said, 'I'll go along with you,'" Mummert recalled saying after Meyers told him he'd signed up. The next day Mummert was filling out an enlistment form.

They went through basic training together at Fort Dix, N.J., and were assigned to Fort Lewis, Wash. They were in Seattle waiting to be shipped to Japan when the war started on June 25, 1950. Their unit was Co. A of the 2nd Engineer Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.

"I was riding in the back of the truck he was driving the night he was captured," Mummert said Tuesday. The division had been surrounded by Chinese troops. "We were the last group to get our vehicles in line to get out of there," Mummert said.

It was nightfall when the Chinese attacked, sending up flares and hoards of troops against the vehicles jammed along a dirt roadway.

"I remember seeing him reach into the truck to get his rifle," Mummert, 68, said. That was the last he saw of Meyers as he and other soldiers abandoned the trucks to escape through enemy lines. Mummert believes Meyers stayed behind to provide covering fire.

Moats had another wire photo of her brother before his capture. Dated Sept. 20, 1950, it said he and another soldier had knocked out two tanks near Yonsan with a bazooka.

"I always had the feeling he was still alive," Moats, 62, of Mont Alto, said. She learned from a Nov. 18 Morning Herald article that the Department of Defense was seeking relatives to supply blood samples to compare against DNA extracted from skeletal remains recovered from ongoing excavations by joint U.S.and North Korean teams.

"Meyers is MICAP negative," said Phil O'Brien, an analyst with the Defense Prisoner of War Personnel Office in Arlington, Va. MICAP is the Missing in Action Captivity Report, compiled from debriefings of POWs released at the end of the war. The former POWs were asked to name every fellow prisoner they could remember, even if it was only a nickname.

"That means it was unlikely he was kept in a major POW camp for any length of time," O'Brien said Tuesday. He said other prisoner lists from the communists did not have Meyers' name. More than 8,000 American servicemen are still listed as "bodies not recovered" from that war.

The Army listed Meyers as presumed dead on March 2, 1954, and he was promoted from private first class to corporal.

An unidentified and undated newspaper clipping with the date "5/53" scrawled in pencil on it recounted Raymond Meyers' visit to the Valley Forge (Pa.) Veterans Hospital. The article said he showed his son's picture to former prisoners, one of whom recognized him as having been a prisoner at Camp No. 7 near Yalu River.

The article, however, said the man did not know Meyers by name.

"I figure at a minimum his family is owed a POW medal," Franklin County Department of Veterans Affairs Office Director Robert Harris said Monday.

It may be years, however, before the Pentagon is able to determine whether Meyers was killed in action or died in captivity. O'Brien said the picture itself is not "hard evidence" but could be part of the puzzle to determine what happened to Meyers.

No close relatives have contacted Harris about Franklin County's other MIA from the war, Pfc. Raymond L. Woodring. He was known to have been captured and was last seen among a group of ill prisoners along a North Korean road on Nov. 2, 1950. Harris said he has heard from two distant cousins, but they may not be able to provide mitochondrial DNA samples that must come from his mother's side of the family.

Department of Defense records said the Waynesboro, Pa., man's next of kin was a sister, Mrs. Betty McKissick.

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