October 27, 2021

For 67 years, woman awaits news of brother MIA in Korea

Holding out hope

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Few in the greater Cortland area would know or remember Robert Henry. Today, his name is 10 lines up from the bottom at a memorial at the VFW on Main Street. But 67 years ago, he disappeared on the last day of fighting on Pork Chop Hill in what is now the North Korea Demilitarized Zone, just a few days before the war ended.

Cpl. Robert M. Henry of Blodgett Mills went missing nearly 67 years ago in territory that is today North Korea. He was never found.

Today, Pat Arnold, Henry’s 77-year-old sister, who lives in White House, Tenn., continues to hope that she will learn the fate of her brother while she is still alive.

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July 1953: It was the end of the Korean War, almost. The two sides were in talks for what would become the armistice agreement, but they hadn’t arrived at one yet.

Instead, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army made one last push to snatch as much territory as it could. They would incur 70,000 casualties in the attempt, in some cases wasting thousands of men to grab land of little strategic value. Pork Chop Hill was one of those worthless scraps of land.

The 32nd regiment of the 7th U.S. Army Division was one of two regiments stationed there to stop them — as was Cpl. Robert M. Henry, a machine gunner.

The Chinese attack was relentless. It started July 6 with a mortar barrage followed by a twobattalion ground assault. This went on for two days without interruption — “with Chinese artillery fire falling on Pork Chop Hill at the rate of about one to two rounds per second,” according to the 2014 Army report.


The sources

The account of Cpl. Robert M. Henry’s disappearance is drawn from a 2014 reportobtained by his sister, Pat Arnold, from the U.S. Army, as well as information posted on the website of the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency.


On the afternoon of July 8, the Americans launched a counter-attack with three companies and tanks. It lasted for three hours, and it failed. The Chinese forces didn’t budge.

Fighting continued for two more days. The Chinese soldiers attacked in wave after wave.

On the morning of July 10, the 3rd Battalion of the 32nd Infantry Regiment — Henry’s battalion — was sent into battle.

Shortly before 2 a.m. the next day, the 3rd battalion was overrun. It was during this rout that Henry disappeared. Pork Chop Hill was lost, and so was Robert Henry.

The armistice was signed 16 days later.

———

An armistice was signed, but the war never officially ended. As a result, gaining access to the areas suspected to contain American remains has never been easy.

Today, the part of Pork Chop Hill where Henry disappeared is North Korean territory. The remains of Cpl. Robert Henry are believed to be in there somewhere.

Of the 4,400 American prisoners of war who survived captivity, none had anything to report about Henry. The Army believes he was killed in that last assault. He was listed as dead a year after he went missing.

Recovery efforts have been going on for years, but excavations made from 1996 through 2005, which yielded the remains of more than 220 U.S. servicemen, did not turn up any trace of Henry.

———

Pat Arnold never let go of the hope that she will one day learn what happened to her brother.

That day could be any day now, or it could be never. There’s no way of saying for sure. In August 2018, 55 boxes of remains excavated in North Korea were shipped to an Army laboratory in Hawaii for analysis.

Arnold gave a sample of her DNA more than 20 years ago to help with analysis. Other members of her family did, too. They still hold out hope that these new boxes may hold the remains of their brother.

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The Henrys had a big family. There were 11 of them — seven brothers and four sisters — and their father, Albert, had a lot of bread-winning to do. He worked three jobs, one of them at Wickwire Brothers.

Mary, their mom, said she didn’t play favorites — the family was too big for that, or so she said. But Arnold is pretty sure that Robert — or Bobby, as they called him — was her mother’s special one, which made the blow of his disappearance even harder.

Arnold was only 10 when her brother left home for basic training, but she has fond memories of him.

“I remember him clearly,” she said.

She remembers the time he told her never to cut her long, curly hair. She remembers his dog, Toby, and she remembers him riding a horse with a neighbor boy.

“I just remember him as being a very loving, caring brother,” she said.

She also remembers that Bobby, who attended Cortland High School, was working at the Brewer-Titchener Corp. when he was drafted.

———

Robert Henry was also married, which introduces an aspect of this story that doesn’t appear in the official record.

Word was there were problems with the youthful marriage, Arnold said.

Before he shipped overseas, her brother reportedly told his wife Dolores that he wouldn’t be coming back. Anyway, that’s what Arnold would later hear.

A year after Henry went missing, the Army listed him as dead. Not long after that, Dolores married a recently divorced man she was apparently seeing, Arnold said.

All of this left a lingering doubt about her brother’s fate.

Many years later, she heard something else that strengthened that doubt.

The sourcing isn’t very good, but it still bothers her. Years ago, she can’t remember how many, a man told her his sister had seen Bobby — after he had been listed as dead by the Army — buying a bus ticket in Cortland.

They’re both dead now, the brother and sister. As is Dolores. There’s no way of knowing if the person supposedly seen buying that bus ticket was really Bobby, or just someone who looked like him, or if the story that she heard third-hand had any truth to it at all.

Yet Arnold can’t help but wonder — what if Bobby actually survived, and returned to the U.S. to live a new life as someone else?

But as soon as she entertains the possibility, she immediately dismisses it.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t believe that he would have done that to our Mom, or our Dad, or our brothers and sisters.”

———

She’s been waiting for years. So have her siblings.

She’s tried to find anything she can. She started in earnest in the late 1990s, writing to a magazine on the history Korean War, hoping that someone would write in with something, anything, about her brother, but no one did.

“I tried hard to find anybody that knew him,” she said.

Her brother was just too green when he arrived in Korea for anyone to remember him, she thinks. He was only in-country two months before he disappeared.

“He got there in May and came up missing in July,” Arnold said.

People have been helpful along the way. She especially credited Norm Stitzel in Cortland with putting in the work to help her. But so far all of these efforts have yielded nothing. Nothing about him has ever turned up — not his dog tags, not his helmet, not even a stray bit of gossip from another soldier.

Her brother Lawrence also helped in the search, and he had hoped that he would find some closure in his lifetime.

That never happened, though. He died Oct. 13 at 75.

Arnold continues to hold out hope she will hear something, and soon. Maybe this article might do the trick. Maybe someone who has information about her brother reads it and picks up the phone. Maybe Bobby himself.

“Maybe just one little something might click with someone somewhere,” she said. “I want closure.”


The search continues

The Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency reported this week that three soldiers missing since the Korean War have been accounted for:

• Army Sgt. Jesse D. Hill, 20, killed during the Korean War, was a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He was reported missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces near the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea. Following the battle, his remains could not be recovered.

• Army Cpl. R.B. Cherry, 19, killed during the Korean War, was a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. He was reported missing in action on Nov. 27, 1950, near Anju, North Korea. Using information provided by returned POWs after the war, it was determined that Cherry had been a POW in Camp 5 and died of pneumonia in the winter of 1950. His remains were reportedly buried in a cemetery near the camp and were not recovered.

• Army Sgt. William E. Cavender, 20, killed during the Korean War, was a member of Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He was reported missing in action on Nov. 28, 1950, when his unit was attacked by enemy forces near the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea. Following the battle, his remains could not be recovered.