02/11/08 — Marine's final resting place still a mystery

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Marine's final resting place still a mystery

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 11, 2008 1:46 PM

Fresh off his trip to Cambodia, Cary Turner said last week that while he was glad to be home, he was disappointed to not be coming back with any news about his cousin Joseph Hargrove, who was one of three Marines left behind on Koh Tang Island in 1975.

Turner, who spent the last two weeks of January in Cambodia, made the 31-hour trip because after seven years, a U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command team was finally returning to the island to search for the remains of Joseph and others who were killed during the fighting after the hijacking of the S.S. Mayaguez by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

During the battle, Hargove, a lance corporal, and two other Marines, Pfc. Gary L. Hall and Pfc. Danny G. Marshall, were left behind and were later executed -- adding to the more than 40-person death toll.

When the team arrived on the island, Turner explained, they had six areas they wanted to excavate. Of those, four were identified as possible grave sites for Joseph.

By the time Turner left, though, the team had only just begun to work on one of those.

But, he continued, the excavations on the other sites were proving fruitful with the possible remains of two or three other soldiers already found -- one of which he was able to help discover.

"That was unexpected," he said. "I was standing there watching and they asked if I'd like to help. I said sure and they threw me a shovel and I started digging.

"And it was no time before we found what appeared to be some remains. There's no doubt they're excited because early in the mission, it's already been successful."

But, he admitted that it was something of a bittersweet victory for him.

"I'm happy for the other families, but there's still an emptiness because I'm looking for Joseph," Turner said. "I want him home. When we get him home, then we can say it's over. And if God's willing, they'll find him."

Still, he knows that just by making it over there, he managed to accomplish at least part of his goal.

"Being on the island and seeing how it was, it was hard to imagine its past and all the bloodshed. It's a beautiful place. When I got to where Em Son (a former Khmer Rouge commander) said that the executed American (thought to be Joseph) was buried ... I can't really explain how I felt," he said. "It was strange. It was like, 'I'm here Joseph.'

"After all the talk, it's like reality slaps you in the face and you're standing on that island."

And that in itself, he continued, was a small victory for the family.

"I honestly believe that if there's anything to be found, JPAC will find it," he said.

Despite his own earlier concerns and long-held suspicions by the family, Turner explained that he feels that one way or another this 33-year chapter in their lives will finally be over.

"I can't say enough good things about them. I know they're working hard to find something. With the distrust we've had, this JPAC team has helped heal that wound a little," he said.

Also helping to heal those wounds, he continued, was the time he was able to spend on the mainland.

"I fell in love with the people. They danced all over my heart," Turner said.

He described seeing people of all ages with missing arms and legs -- the terrible result of the many leftover land mines from the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

But he also described seeing "smiles everywhere," especially among children like the 12-year-old girl who sold him a small bracelet for his 9-year-old granddaughter so that she could afford to attend school.

"They're survivors," he said. "If I wasn't already married I'd volunteer with the Peace Corps and go over there and try to make a difference. It just touches your heart."

But, he admitted that if for no other reason than because of the exhausting trip, he's not likely to return -- not unless he feels like he has to.

"If for some reason they miss one of the sites and don't plan to go back, I'll go back and dig myself if I have to," Turner said. "I've seen what they do and I'm a quick learner.

"But I feel pretty confident they'll cover those sites. I'll just be on pins and needles until JPAC come back in mid-March."

And so will Joseph's widow, Gail Hargrove.

"I'm happy with how it's going and I'm thrilled (Cary's) home safe," she said. "I'm extremely happy that he went. I think that was important.

"I'm keeping up with (JPAC) through Marine Corps Casualty and like Cary said, those boys aren't coming home without doing everything they can.

"I think that 2008 is finally going to be the year for (Joseph) to come home. The other two times they went I didn't have that feeling. But this time I do."