Faye Sizemore

DISTANT CALL

We still hear you
calling… calling
You are missing… missing
Missing In Action
We are still coming… coming
Hunting the ends of this Earth
Searching… Searching
We will not stop
Ever… Ever…
until you are all home again
Home… Home
where Heroes belong…

Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, PA)
December 14, 2006

SHE NEVER FORGOT

Woman gets closure for father, former MIA

By Larry Alexander

The rotted remains of a left boot; a beaded chain; some buttons; crumpled foil from a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes; a key manufactured in Lancaster by Slaymaker Lock Co.; a moldy canvas-and-leather wallet holding a faded photograph; a single military dog tag – these items, once carried by U.S. Army Master Sgt. Robert V. Layton, are all his daughter, Judith Saylor of Millersville, has to remember her father – personal belongings straight to her from a grave half a world away.

Missing in action in Korea since December 1950, Layton’s skeletal remains, and the items buried with him, were returned to his family last month.

“It’s closure for us at last,” Saylor said Wednesday.

Living in Cincinnati at the time, Saylor was just 5 years old when her father left his wife, Helen, and two young daughters, Geraldine and herself, to fight in Korea. It would be Layton’s second war.

Layton won a Bronze Star for valor in World War II and was wounded twice. His European campaign ribbon bears four battle stars. When North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, Layton, either on his own or through a callback issued by the government, found himself back in uniform.

Assigned to the 37th Regimental Combat Team of the Army’s 7th Division, Layton was among the United Nations forces that pushed the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel and kept pushing them north toward the Chinese border.

By November 1950, Layton and his comrades had reached the shores of the Chosin Reservoir. There they fell victim to a surprise assault by Chinese troops sent to bolster North Korean forces.

Fierce fighting and subzero temperatures took a severe toll. The 7th Division was surrounded but fought its way out, suffering 15,000 casualties.

One of these was Layton, who fell sometime between November 27 and November 29 in fighting on the reservoir’s east side, between Pungnyuri Inlet and Hagaru-ri to the south.

Layton was declared missing in action Dec. 2, 1950 – and legally dead Dec. 31, 1953.

“Mother always felt like he was going to come home, but I think that’s just a way of dealing with it,” Saylor said.

For the next 50 years, there was no news of the husband and father, although there were some false alarms. Decades ago, the family saw a photograph of an American GI imprisoned in North Korea. The man closely resembled Layton, but it wasn’t him.

Then, in the 1990s, a library in Cincinnati displayed a photograph of a prisoner named Robert Layton. However, it was soon discovered the man’s middle name was different.

“They were about the same age,” Saylor said. “They actually enlisted in the army about the same time, so those kinds of things fed our questions.”

It was Saylor’s sister Geraldine’s persistent inquiries to the Pentagon’s POW/MIA Office that finally paid off for the family.

In 2001, U.S. investigators began a careful excavation of a mass grave of American soldiers at Chosin Reservoir. The men buried there, at least 225 of them, had been interred by their comrades before the American withdrawal from the reservoir.

Layton’s remains – along with those of three other men – were found in 2004 in a small grave near the mass grave. After being returned to Washington, Layton’s remains were identified earlier this year through DNA analysis and dental records, and a letter was sent to Geraldine.

Unfortunately, Geraldine died in June, so her mother – Layton’s 84-year-old widow – got the letter. She phoned Saylor.

At first it didn’t seem real, Saylor said. But reality sank in last month when she, her husband, Bill, their two sons and her mother visited Arlington, Va.

There, they were presented with Layton’s personal effects, including his wallet, which still contained a faded photo of his young wife and his mother. They also were allowed to view the remains in the casket and place letters, photos and other memorabilia inside.

“That’s when I started getting choked up, because all of a sudden, it’s real, and it made him more human,” said Saylor, whose last memory of her father was a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo just before he left for overseas.

Saylor said her mother was more shaken by the news than Saylor had anticipated.

“It stirred up a lot more than she thought it was going to,” Saylor said. “She got real shaky.”

She said her mother was wracked with self-recrimination, wondering if she could have been a better wife or if she should have written him more often.

“We told her that’s not why he’s dead,” Saylor said. “It was war, and a lot of men died.”

Layton was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on Nov. 28 – 56 years, possibly to the day, that he died.

Finally knowing her father’s fate has eased a burden for Saylor.

“To know that he died in combat, that it was quick, that he was buried with some respect, that he was not tortured, and to have him buried at Arlington with respect,” she said, “that means a lot.”

Houston Chronicle
December 15, 2006

CEREMONY HONORS MILITARY SACRIFICES

Ex-prisoner of North Vietnamese, others lay wreaths at the Houston National Cemetery
By Rosanna Ruiz

Ron Ridgeway of Houston spent five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. The military told his family he’d been killed in action. Still, the Houston man considers himself fortunate.

“I’m lucky I came back in one piece,” said the 57-year-old who served as a Marine. “That’s why I don’t play the Lotto – I’ve used all my luck up.”

On a breezy, pleasant Thursday, Ridgeway and five other retired and active-duty military men laid memorial wreaths during a ceremony at the Houston National Cemetery meant to coincide with nationwide observances.

The “Wreaths Across America” program began 15 years ago with the placing of donated holiday wreaths on thousands of graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

“The freedom we enjoy today has come with a price,” Capt. Eric Thompson of Houston’s Civil Air Patrol said during the ceremony.

Worcester Wreath Co. of Maine – the company behind the project – enlisted the air patrol to help spread its program to the more than 230 state and national cemeteries and veterans monuments around the country.

“Our goal is to expand the recognition of those who serve our country, both past, present, and future, as well as their families who deserve our support,” said company president Morrill Worcester.

Wreaths representing the nation’s military branches were placed on stands near the speakers’ dais at the Houston cemetery. Ridgeway placed one for POWs and the missing in action.
Ridgeway, released in 1973, endured solitude, torture, rationed food and comrades’ deaths while imprisoned.

“You have to believe you’re not going to die and be buried in Vietnam,” he said after the service.

While he was a prisoner, remains thought to be his were interred in a mass grave in St. Louis. And a marker in his name at Houston’s veterans cemetery was removed after it was discovered he’d survived the war.