Washington (CNN) — Rick Downes’ mission has brought him here, to the National Archives in suburban Washington, D.C. His goal: to find any records, information — anything at all — that would tell him what happened to his father.
“My father is missing in action 59 years ago yesterday. He was Air Force and his plane went down and we don’t know what happened to him,” Downes said last Friday before he headed into the Archives.
Lt. Harold Downes was a navigator on a B-26 bomber when his plane went down over North Korea on January 13, 1952. Some of the crew ejected and were captured by the North Koreans. Downes was never seen again. He remains to this day one of the more than 8,000 U.S. servicemembers listed as “unaccounted for” from the Korean War, a conflict often referred to as the “forgotten war.”
For the families of those unaccounted for, there used to be hope. Over the years, the United States and North Korea — long-time adversaries — had cooperated in efforts to look for remains of those missing in action. Beginning in 1996, North Korean and U.S. military teams conducted 33 joint recovery missions looking for remains inside North Korea. There was success, too — 229 sets of remains were located, and brought out of the very reclusive country.