05/28/07 — Duplin Marine might be coming home soon

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Duplin Marine might be coming home soon

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 28, 2007 1:46 PM

After more than 30 years of anguish and wondering, a glimmer of hope has appeared on the horizon for Cary Turner and the rest of the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Hargrove.

For the first time since 2001, there's a chance Hargrove could finally be coming home from the Cambodian island he was left behind on in 1975.

"(U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C.) called me and said he'd had a conversation with people up in D.C. and pretty much they said they have a trip planned for January or Febuary 2008, and that they specifically said Joseph Hargrove was one of those sites they were going to go see," Turner said.

Turner, a Duplin County commissioner, has spent the last few months trying to gain momentum to bring his cousin's remains back to North Carolina.

From T-shirts, to bumper stickers, to spots on radio and television talk shows in Raleigh, to letters to state delegates, congressmen and even the president, Turner said he's seen a groundswell of support in recent weeks as state Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, introduced a resolution in the House, and U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre began looking into the matter.

But it was Jones who finally brought the good news.

"I'm tickled. I'm floating right now. I tried to talk to him, and my voice just broke down and was so emotional," Turner said. "I feel so humbled and so lucky this is happening and happening so quickly. This has been a long time coming."

Jones explained that he was simply the messenger and that the trip had already been planned by the time his phone call was made.

"They were already scheduling a time to go back to that area of Cambodia and look for remains," he said. "They're going to do everything they can. That's what they do.

"I feel real pleased and encouraged, and I just hope and pray his remains will be found."

What Jones is trying to do now is pave the way for Turner to join the expedition.

Going with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) team has been a goal of Turner's ever since he began his quest.

Whether Joseph's remains are found or not, he explained that having a family member there to witness the excavations firsthand would go a long way toward healing what has been something of an open wound for everybody involved.

"I don't trust the government and the family has had their chain yanked so many times that it would be good if an eyewitness from the family went to make sure they go to that specific gravesite," he said.

Turner explained that if he wasn't allowed to go and the team returned with no remains, "in the family's eyes it would be another lie."

That specific gravesite is the one identified by Em Son, who was the local commander of the Khmer Rouge Forces on Koh Tang in 1975 when Joseph and nearly 200 other Marines stormed the island in an attempt to free the 40 prisoners taken off the U.S. merchant ship the S.S. Mayaguez three days earlier. It was considered the last official action of the Vietnam War.

After the battle between the two forces began, it was discovered that the prisoners had never been on the island, but it took the rest of the day for the Marines to disengage and evacuate -- all except three who were left behind defending the retreating force's right flank.

Because of a communication snafu, Hargrove, Pfc. Gary L. Hall and Pfc. Danny G. Marshall never made it back to the helicopters, and the decision was made the next day that it was too dangerous and the odds of their survival too low for a rescue mission.

Then, only 14 months later and with no proof, the three men were declared dead. And while it turned out they all had indeed been executed, the full story of how they were left behind was left untold until years later.

Since then, JPAC expeditions have been undertaken to recover the remains of the rest of the 41 Marine, Naval and Air Force casualties -- 18 on the island and 23 in a helicopter crash in Thailand.

In 1999, one of those teams found what they believed to be the gravesites and remains of Hall and Marshall. But even though they also located Hargrove's suspected gravesite in 2001, they were unable to excavate it before being forced to return home.

"They specifically said that is one of the sites they are going to," Turner said. "The GPS coordinates are there and that's where Em Son pointed them to. That's the only one left to my knowledge."

Now he wonders if this will be their last chance to bring Joseph home before his 85-year-old mother, Charlotte Hargrove, dies.

"We're racing against time," Turner said, explaining that she only recently was released from the hospital after being gravely ill.

And that, he stressed, is why he needs to be allowed to go. He's even agreed to pay his own way and release the federal government from any injury or illness he may suffer as a result of the trip.

"I put in the letter (to Charles Ray, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs) that because of the mother who's 85, having a family member join the search team, whether the remains are found or not, would be important. I think it's justified," Jones said. "And I'm hopeful we'll be able to see an ending to this chapter in this family's life and give them some peace."