Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Dec. 16, 1959

Mother Wants Probe on Case of Missing GI

The U.S. government says that Donald Sybrant is dead.  It lists him as one of the 142,000 casualties of the Korean war.It first reported him missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950, in the battle of Heartbreak Ridge.

Then, three years later, it notified his mother, Mrs. Leota Shadden, of Ainsworth, Neb., that he was presumed dead.  Where there is no conclusive evidence of death, but where a missing serviceman remains unheard of for 366 days or longer, the government may make this presumption.

This it did a few months after the final prisoner-of-war exchange in the fall of 1953.  Sgt. Sybrant was one of the 4,735 missing and captured GIs whom the United States couldn’t account for and declared “presumed dead” at that time.

Mrs. Shadden doesn’t agree with the U.S. government’s conclusions about her son.

Her reasons are not based solely on faith.  There are facts, both personal and general, she has gathered in the ensuing years which lead her to believe that the government her son fought to preserve is accepting her son’s “death” much too casually.

This week, I discussed some of those facts with her.  Her case, briefly, is this:

Through correspondence with men in his outfit, H&S Co., 2nd Div. Engineers, Mrs. Shadden learned that he fought his way out of a Chinese roadblock and swam safely across the Chongchon River.

This was all she knew about her son until Feb. 14, 1951.  Then, in a picture printed in a Tacoma (Wash.) newspaper of a group of prisoners of war, she thought she recognized one of the men as Donald.

She obtained a glossy print of the picture.  The clearer photograph made her almost positive of the identification, although the Communists did not then, nor have they ever, admitted that Donald was a P.O.W.

Next, in October of 1952, she received by mail a Communist magazine, “China Reconstructs.”

It was postmarked Hong Kong.  Letters from the magazine soliciting  her subscription followed in April, 1953, and July, 1955.

The magazine, to her, was the biggest clue to the mystery of whether her son was or possibly still is prisoner of the Communist Chinese.

“It could be,” she told me, “that my son somehow managed to get the magazine sent to me to let me know that he’s alive.”

Investigators, both private and government, have come up with no information that any other relative of a missing or captured GI received the magazine.

How, Mrs. Shadden would like to know, did the Communists get her name and address if her son hadn’t supplied it?

The magazine was addressed to Mrs. LEO Shadden (Leo being her husband’s name).  All her son’s Army records listed her as Mrs. LEOTA Shadden.

Then, there’s the coincidence that the magazine’s subject matter stressed heavy equipment operation — her son’s Army specialty.

Mrs. Shadden’s case that her son is a captive is purely circumstantial.  It’s by no means conclusive.  There are dozens of cases with equally strong or stronger evidence that the Chinese did hold back, or are still holding back American GIs as hidden hostages.

Mrs. Shadden’s complaint is that the U.S. government is passive in its attempts to get an accounting from the Red Chinese  of the hundreds of American servicemen who “vanished” in the Korea fighting.

The Communists — both in Russia and China — have a history of holding back prisoners of war, denying their existence, and then freeing them five, 10 or 20 years later.

Let’s Look Into It

“I feel that my son is alive,” Mrs. Shadden told me.  “I suppose that it’s only natural for a mother to feel that way.  He could be dead.

“But that’s not the point.  The point is, he was willing to give up his life for his country when he went to Korea.

“So as long as there’s a thread of evidence that the Chinese still have him,” she concluded, “the government shouldn’t turn its back on the possibility just because it’s diplomatically less embarrassing that way.”

Tomorrow, I’ll examine some of the cases of the 450 “missing” GIs whom the government says, in one breath, are dead;  in the next, are possibly alive.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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