05/24/09 — Cousin gets good news in fight to bring soldier home

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Cousin gets good news in fight to bring soldier home

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 24, 2009 2:00 AM

Cary Turner returned from his second trip to Koh Tang island in March, but he is still waiting for the answer to the question that has been dogging him for nearly two years now -- where are the remains of his cousin Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Hargrove?

It's a question he hoped he would be able to answer when he first traveled to the Cambodian island in January 2008, meeting up with the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command team charged with searching for the lost remains of soldiers killed during the fighting following the hijacking of the S.S. Mayaguez by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 -- a battle considered by many to be the last action of the Vietnam War.

Among those lost during the fighting on the island was his cousin, who was apparently defending the American force's right flank with two other men when they were mistakenly left on the island and, according to reports, later executed.

And when the JPAC team investigated the island last year, Turner hoped they would excavate the site where former Khmer Rouge commander Em Son said a man fitting Hargrove's description was killed.

But, Turner said, when he found out they didn't go as far with it as he thought they would, he knew he had to return.

And so, after raising more than $10,000, he went back in mid-February, this time with his own crew of Cambodians to help dig.

But after digging for more than a week at several different sites using the techniques he learned from JPAC, he was still empty-handed and disappointed as he prepared to head home.

Fortunately, he said, the commander on the island asked him to give a couple of soldiers a ride back to the mainland, and that's when he had his optimism renewed.

He explained that during the four-hour boat ride some of the soldiers asked his crew "what the American" was doing. When told that he was looking for the remains of an American killed during the Vietnam War, Turner said the soldiers began telling about a set of remains found at an entirely different site by the JPAC team the year before.

"The soldier said they found him last year -- that last year after we left, JPAC, they found four sets of remains, one of which was identified as American," Turner said. "This is from eyewitnesses."

It was a moment of sheer elation.

"I had hit rock bottom. I had done what I said I would -- not come home until I'd turned over at least 30 inches (of dirt) of Em Son's site, but I didn't have any more leads. I was going back a failure," he said. "Now, we weren't successful in bringing his remains home, but we were successful at staying on the trail.

"I feel like there's a little light at the end of the tunnel now."

That feeling was intensified even more, he said, when once back on the mainland, he heard the same story from another source -- this time a high-ranking army officer.

And so now he is sure Hargrove's remains are back in American hands, awaiting identification.

"If they say it's not him, I'm not going to believe it," Turner said. "They (the Cambodians) volunteered this information. They have no reason to lie.

"They've got him. We have every reason to believe (the Cambodians are) talking about Joseph. Now I just hope JPAC does the right thing and turns the remains over to his wife (Gail Hargrove), so she and the whole Hargrove family can have closure and move on, at least having a little peace of mind that he's back on American soil."

However, JPAC returned more than a year ago with the remains they found on Koh Tang and no identification has been made.

But, said Johnie Webb Jr., deputy to the commander for external relations for JPAC, that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't Hargrove's. It just means the testing is taking longer than usual.

Webb explained that mitochondria DNA does not provide enough information to positively identify remains -- that it follows just the maternal lineage, and that 7 percent of all Caucasians actually have the same mitochondria DNA.

And so, short of using dental records, he continued, researchers also look for distinguishing characteristics such as healed injuries, age estimate, stature, where the body was found and if it was found with any sort of material evidence or artifacts.

But as to how they are working to identify the remains from the 2008 trip, he would not comment, saying only that they hope to be able to notify families one way or another very soon.

"I think we'll have that information within the next few weeks," he said.