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    Loved ones lost, they search for closure

    Families of POWs and MIAs will gather today to share their pain and seek answers from the government.

    By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 16, 2002


    photo
    [Times photo: Fraser Hale]
    Roger Hall Jr., 54, holds a portrait of his father, Air Force Lt. Roger Hall Sr.
    TAMPA -- Roger Hall Jr. remembers standing on his father's lap, steering the family's 1948 Studebaker.

    He remembers the two of them catching a bus to the W.T. Grant department store in downtown Tampa, where father bought son a toy fire truck and an ice cream cone.

    He also remembers the day in 1953 when a chaplain and a military officer came to his door bearing news that his father, Air Force Lt. Roger Hall Sr., had disappeared behind enemy lines in Korea.

    He remembers his mother breaking down in tears, destined to live with only pictures of her husband, three sons that resembled him and no answers about his fate.

    Today, Roger Hall Jr., now a 54-year-old father of two, will join more than 150 people at the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel who are still seeking answers about their missing loved ones from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War.

    The gathering marks one of 10 such meetings held around the country each year since 1995. They are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense's Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office.

    The message:

    "We have not forgotten your son or your husband," said Peggy Marish-Boos, a public affairs specialist for the office. "All these families have this one thing in common that you and I can only imagine. It gets really emotional.

    "But they now have a support group, and we brought them together."

    Officials will spend part of the day giving family members an overview of search efforts across the globe and detailing the methods they use in locating, identifying and excavating remains.

    In the afternoon, investigators will meet privately with families to give reports about the progress of their individual cases. Marish-Boos said there were 67 cases on the list for this weekend.

    photo
    [Hall family photo]
    Roger Hall Sr. holds his son Roger Hall Jr., age 4, in a family photograph taken in 1952.
    The meetings are closed to the public.

    Marish-Boos said more than 78,000 soldiers are missing from World War II, more than 8,100 from the Korean War, more than 1,900 from the Vietnam War and more than 120 from the Cold War.

    Many never will be found. But she said the government had an obligation to keep looking, to not give up hope.

    "We're sending men and women out there to support this country. We owe it to them, and most importantly, also to their families," Marish-Boos said. "If you're going to sacrifice the ultimate and give us freedom we take advantage of on a daily basis, we owe it at least to get them home on American soil. It's the right thing to do."

    Hall grew up without a father from age 5. It's the only life he's known.

    He said that if he never knows exactly what happened to his father, he will be content. He knows his dad died honorably.

    But it would be nice to know.

    "I would like to know (exactly) where he died," Hall said. "There's always the what ifs going on when it's not a closed book. It (would) close the book once and for all."

    Either way, he still has memories of ice cream cones, of toy fire trucks, of the '48 Studebaker bumping along.

    "If there is anything I want him to know," Hall said, "it would be that we turned out okay, that it all worked out."

    For more information

    The federal government operates the the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office through the Department of Defense. That office's Web site is: www.dtic.mil/dpmo.

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