A few weeks back, I photographed a briefing session held by the Department of Defense on the status of current POW/MIA service members, going back to WWII. These are the family members of these missing people, who come to these briefings to learn of any updates in their individual cases, as well as updates on the current state of recovery missions in specific countries. There are unique challenges posed in recovering these missing people, which are influenced by geographical and geopolitical factors. (For example, the WPK in North Korea isn't in any kind of hurry to allow active American military within their borders, regardless of their purpose.) I took portraits of a few of these family members, and interviewed them about their specific cases.
Richard Wheeler of Concord, Mass in South Portland, ME on Saturday, November 14, 2015. Wheeler attended for his brother, Naval Aviation Lieutenant Wilfrid Wheeler III. Wilfrid Wheeler served in the Pacific region during WWII, and came back to the United States with a GI Bill, which he used to attend undergraduate and graduate school at Dartmouth. Midway through his graduate degree, the Korean War broke out, and Wilfrid stopped his studies to serve again. His plane was likely shot down in 1953 in Korea. Wheeler (picured) was in Hong Kong as a banker during the time, and he received a telegram from home, notifying him of his brother's likely death. "[after he was notified of his brother's passing] We heard about three of his friends who were coming to Hong Kong, and we were able to make a connection. We hosted them for three days, and they were days filled with honor and great respect for him," Wheeler said.
Brent Granberg of New Sharon, Maine in South Portland, ME on Saturday, November 14, 2015. Granberg's uncle, Air Force Captain Kenneth Granberg, went missing during the Korean war, and Granberg said he doesn't know much about his uncle, because he was only a year or two old when he went missing. Granberg said he decided to attend because the military contacted him in 2004. "I got a phone call, and it was the government, and I thought 'What the hell do they want?' and they explained this was in regard to my uncle. They wanted to know if I would provide a DNA sample to check remains if they are found. He was a fighter pilot, and he crashed into a mountain. I don't expect to have actual closure, but if something should come up, I get teary eyed when I think about it," Granberg said.
Carol Start of Georgetown, Maine in South Portland, ME on Saturday, November 14, 2015. Start is attending the event for her uncle, Army Sergeant Christopher Vars, who was taken as a prisoner of war during the Battle of Chosin River in North Korea. His remains were found by the Defense Department's initiative in September of this year, and Smart's family was finally able to have a funeral for her uncle in October of this year. "We got the news on what would've been my dad's 107th birthday, that they had found him. In 2012, I went to one of these conferences in Providence, RH, and we learned about DNA. I left with such encouragement. I just knew he'd be coming home. There was a doubting Thomas or two in my family that said 'Ain't gonna happen in my lifetime,' but I kept saying, 'You better be ready,'" Start said.
Norma Spurling of Bar Harbor in South Portland, ME on Saturday, November 14, 2015. Spurling came to the event for her brother, Army Air Core Second Lieutenant George Hout, who went missing as he was flying supplies to China from India during WWII. Spurling was a year and a half old when her family was notified Hout's plane went down, and his remains have never been recovered. "I'm still hopeful, but I know it's a difficult situation. There's jungles and the Himalayas, and there are so many things working against us trying to find him. But there are search parties out there," Spurling said.