U.S. Army Corporal Elmer A. Rowe may come home to Iowa again one day, but as of this Memorial Day weekend, 2016, his remains are unaccounted for --- as they have been since the 20-year-old who called both Millerton and Chariton home was killed in combat in Korea on Aug. 12, 1950.
As of May 11, the remains of an estimated 7,823 U.S. troops remain unaccounted for in Korea --- including Elmer. George Musick, also of Chariton, is another.
So there is no tombstone to adorn with a flag or flowers in the New York Cemetery, where Elmer's mother, Ethel, is buried. His "official" memorial is far away -- a name engraved with thousands of others on Tablets of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu.
Later on in the 1930s, the family moved to Chariton --- but back to Millerton by 1940. Elmer's siblings --- Bertha, Roxie, Thelma, Mary, Carl and Gerald --- were born either in Millerton or Chariton.
During 2012, 62 years after Elmer's death, Gerald Rowe donated to the Lucas County Historical Society his brother's photograph, the Purple Heart Medal Elmer had been awarded posthumously and several telegrams and letters that his parents had received in regard to their son's death. So we are among the custodians of his memory.
Elmer probably completed his education at Millerton High School, then enlisted in the U.S. Army soon thereafter, in 1948 or 1949. His parents moved their family back to Chariton at roughly the same time, but Elmer's home of record was Millerton.
The Chariton Leader of Oct. 20, 1949, reported: "Pfc. Elmer A Rowe, son of Mr. and Mrs. W.G. Rowe, 1421 Ashland, has completed eight weeks of intensive training in summer maneuvers on the slopes of Japan's scenic Fujiyama, with the First Cavalry Division. He is a rifleman in the 7th Cavalry Regiment."
On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea, setting off the Korean War. By October, the 7th Cavalry was fully engaged.
On Aug. 21, 1950, Wayne and Ethel Rowe received a telegram at their Ashland Avenue home that read as follows --- "The Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your son, Cpl. Rowe, Elmer A., has been missing in action in Korea since 12 Aug 50. Upon receipt of further information in this office you will be advised immediately. Confirming letter follows. (signed) Edward F. Witsell, major general USA, the Adjutant General of the Army."
The Rowes were the first family in Chariton to receive notification of a missing son --- but that changed very quickly and it became evident later that Elmer had not been the first to die.
During late September, Anna Musick learned that her son, George, age 33, had been missing in Korea since Sept. 3. His death on that date at Yongsan was later confirmed as well.
Elmer's death was confirmed in a second telegram, received by Ethel and Wayne on Aug. 27 and stating that "your son Cpl. Rowe, Elmer A., was killed in action in Korea on 17 August 50. He was previously reported missing in action 19 Aug 50. Confirming letter follows."
The date of death in that second telegram was a mistake; a follow-up letter, datelined Headquarters, Seventh Cavalry, Aug. 29, clarified:
"My dear Mrs. Rowe:
"It is with deep regret that I report your son, Corporal Elmer A. Rowe, RA17241189, Company "F," died in action against the enemy while engaged in patrolling the Naktong River in Korea on August 12, 1950.
"Thus Emer laid down his life for his country just as the patriots at Valley Forge and Lexington did. His loss is deeply felt in the regiment and his name will be long remembered.
"Our Chaplain of your faith conducted graveside services for Elmer. The members of the regiment join me in deepest expression of our sympathy.
"(signed) Cecil W. Nist, Colonel, Infantry, Commanding."
The remains of Donald Halferty were recovered and returned to Lucas County for burial in the Chariton Cemetery a year after his death, during August of 1951.
But the remains of both Elmer Rowe and George Musick remain unaccounted for. They were buried by their comrades near where they fell, but North Korean hostility following the uneasy truce that ended armed conflict continues to prevent a concerted search for their burial places.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, headquartered at Hickman Air Force Base, Honolulu, continues to seek, recover, process and identify the remains of U.S. troops around the globe, however --- so perhaps one day, if the political situation in the Koreas eases, these young men will come home, too.
Ethel Rowe returned to Chariton to live, then died here on Jan. 31, 1961, at the age of 58. She was buried near her parents in the New York Cemetery.
Elmer had many surviving nieces and nephews and one among them has provided the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command with a DNA sample that will be used, in part, to identify his remains --- should they be found.
Since there are no graves to decorate, one way to honor these young men who died long ago now while in service to their country is simply to speak their names. If you read this, please do that: "Elmer A. Rowe" and "George Musick" (left).