Remembering the Fallen – Korea
by Don Bradway
My father, Captain Judson Jack Bradway, died on 20 September 1951. He was a pilot in the United States Marine Corps and flew a F4U Corsair fighter/bomber. He was making a low level bombing run against a North Korean truck convoy and probably took anti-aircraft fire. The Navy airplane dropping flares over the combat area observed sparks coming from my father’s airplane, heard him report, “I’m on fire! I’m on fire!” over the radio and then observed his airplane impact the ground and explode. This occurred in what was called a “free bomb zone” where anything that moved was considered to be enemy activity and is still in North Korean control to this day.
I was three-years old on that day and my sister was born eight days later. My father was listed as “Missing in Action” and wasn’t declared as “Killed in Action” until several years later, when the government went through the list of MIAs and changed their status to “KIA”. I didn’t know the details of his crash until much later in life and held out the hope that he had parachuted to safety and was being held as a prisoner of war and would someday be returned home.
It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I had the opportunity to talk with one of his squadron mates about the incident. He told me there was no way my father could have survived the crash because these missions were flown at very low levels and he wouldn’t have survived, even if he could have bailed out. Mr. Roland and several members of my father’s squadron flew over the crash scene at daylight the next day, looking for any sign of life and others did the same thing later that day.
After the end of the war in Viet Nam, the issue of MIAs became a very hot topic for family members of those who didn’t return from that conflict. They wanted to know what the government was doing to find and repatriate their loved ones. The U.S. government finally started meeting with those family members, as well those family members of MIAs from Korea, the Cold War and World War Two. I started attending the meetings offered by the government and learned more about the process of finding and identifying the remains of missing service members.
The government provides two roundtrip airline tickets to me and other family members to fly to the Washington DC area each year so we can attend annual updates on the progress being made to bring our family members home. I know our government has and will continue to do whatever is necessary and possible to return our family members. I also know I will probably never see the day my father comes home because he is in a remote area of North Korea, as opposed to areas where prison camps and their cemeteries are located. The North Koreas aren’t very nice people and aren’t looking to do us any favors and the last thing I want is for Americans to be held hostage (or worse) because they were looking for the remains of service members lost in North Korea.
Last year, the South Korean government started a program to thank surviving family members of those who were MIAs in the Korean War. My older son, Jason, told me about the program and said he’d like to go to Korea if the offer was extended to me and my family. I was contacted this year by the people who are in charge of the program and decided I wanted to take advantage of the offer.
The South Koreans have a deep sense of gratitude for those who fought for Korean freedom and want to show that gratitude by hosting these annual events. They are paying 50% of my roundtrip airfare and 30% of my son’s. They are footing the bill for our stay and meals at a five-star hotel in Seoul, as well chauffeuring us to multiple cultural events, a trip to the demilitarized zone and Panmunjom, where the armistice was signed. We will also be attending memorial programs honoring our service members. I know my father’s name is inscribed on a memorial wall and I am looking forward to seeing this site because it is proof positive his sacrifice is not forgotten by the people of South Korea.
CBS News had some very nice coverage about this event and I’ve included the link so you can get more details about my upcoming adventure.
The South Korean government has asked each of us attending this memorial event to write about the impact the loss of our family members has had on our lives. My contribution is Part Two of this series.