Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Remembering a Korean War Fighter Pilot MIA
(This is a guest post by Jim Escalle in connection with his uncle, Second Lieutenant Jimmy L. Escalle, seen in the photo above in his F-86 Sabre.)
On June 25, 1950, the Soviet-equipped armies of North Korea crossed the 38th parallel, invading the nation of South Korea. Condemning this invasion, the United Nations requested the help of its members, including the United States, to counter this onslaught of communist aggression.
It had only been five years since the end of the bloodiest war in America’s modern history and now it was being called into another, only this time it would not be a popular war.
In fact, it was not even declared a war by President Harry S. Truman and his administration. According to him, it was only a police action.
But to those in the military who fought in Korea it was definitely a war, and one they will never forget.
Over the next three years the two sides fought to an uneasy standoff, ending the war almost where it began, on the 38th parallel.
After the armistice was finally signed and put into effect on July 27, 1953, the number of casualties reported was staggering. Approximately 34,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines had been killed, although this number is still being debated. Another 92,000 servicemen were wounded, and almost 8,000 are still unaccounted for.
Taking into account the estimated two million civilians who died, which is a conservative figure, an exceedingly high price was paid in order to retain freedom for a small Asian country that at the time most people had never thought about, or in some cases, even knew existed.
South Korea is still free today, thanks mostly to the numerous sacrifices these American heroes gave defending it, especially the brave men from all branches of the military who gave up their lives.
Some of these heroes who paid the ultimate price for freedom proudly wore the blue uniform of the United States Air Force. One of them was my uncle, Second Lieutenant Jimmy L. Escalle, a fighter pilot who disappeared just five weeks before the war ended.
I never had the privilege of knowing my uncle personally; he was listed as missing in action several years before I was born. One day, while rummaging through some old photographs in my parents’ closet, I came across a small photo of a man wearing an aviator’s cap and goggles.
I asked my mom who he was. She told me that he was my Uncle Jimmy, my dad’s older brother, who had been in the Air Force, but he had never returned from the Korean War. She told me I was named in honor of him.
That statement sparked my curiosity even brighter. I wanted to know more about my uncle’s life, especially his role with the Air Force. I also wanted to know about the Korean War, so I could understand the environment in which he fought and eventually gave his life.
Although I was just eight years old at the time, I thought that maybe someday, somehow, I would know his complete life story, because I didn’t want him, like the Korean War itself, to be forgotten.
Like most young kids interested in this kind of stuff, I had the energy and desire to do the research, even though resources at the time were limited. This enthusiasm continued into my high school years.
But as I grew older, left home, and became busy with my college activities, my zeal for finding information on my uncle began to seriously diminish. You might say the pilot light was still on, but the burner was not lit. In other words, the interest was still there, but the motivation was gone.
Other things had priority, such as studies, sports, girls, and hobbies. Not necessarily in that order of course. I still thought about Jim whenever I saw an Air National Guard jet fighter fly over my apartment, or when I saw a TV rerun of the Korean War movie "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" based on James Michener's novel of the same name. But I didn't pursue the matter with the same intensity I had when I was younger.
This was in the early 1980s when a lot of attention was given over to the national events at the time, like the Iran hostage crisis, the Mt. St. Helens eruption in Washington, and the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
That all changed in 1993, however, when the Korean War was back in the spotlight. In September of that year, I read an article printed on the front page of a local newspaper about a government report dealing with missing American servicemen.
The article stated that the U.S. government had evidence Moscow took possession of, and also held, American prisoners of war during the conflict in Korea. The article also stated that the most likely candidates for capture and turn-over to the Soviet Union were F-86 Sabre pilots, because they had knowledge of this state-of-the-art jet fighter. The pilots' knowledge was something the Soviets wanted to exploit.
Included with this article was a list of 31 missing F-86 pilots, along with six other airmen who the U.S. government thought may have, according to their circumstance of loss, survived their crashes and possibly were taken to the Soviet Union, never to return. My uncle’s name was seventh on the list.
The newspaper article on the missing F-86 Sabre pilots gave me a stronger desire to search more aggressively for information about my uncle. Before I read the article and saw the list of names, I had always thought he went down with his plane. But now, more questions were starting to pop up in my head.
Did he die when he went down? Did he bail out and get captured by the North Koreans or Chinese? Was he taken to the Soviet Union? These questions motivated me to continue trying to complete my uncle's story.
As more time went by, I finally received copies of my uncle's military personnel record. I was fortunate in this case because in 1973 a fire broke out at the St. Louis facility where these records are stored and permanently destroyed all of the Air Force personnel records starting with names beginning with the letter H. The fire didn’t affect the records from A-G.
Although it took a while to receive them, I was grateful for having them at all. I was also grateful for the help and cooperation of so many fine people over the years, both civilian and military, who assisted me in my determined effort to piece together my uncle’s life.
Jimmy L. Escalle was only 23 years old when he was listed as missing in action, but in that short time he lived an exemplary life, including being able to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a pilot. He personified the typical spirit of most young fighter pilots who flew combat missions in Korea, and many just like him never came home after the hostilities ended.
His life story is but one example of the thousands who answered the call to serve their country at this critical time in history. Let us never forget them, or the sacrifices they made for freedom.
To read more information about my upcoming book, visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/unforgottenhero. Here you can read the book's table of contents, excerpts from two chapters, and some of the endorsements I have received. You can also see photos and videos.
Related articles can be read on my blog at: http://unforgottenhero.blogspot.com
And read the second guest post by Jim Escalle about his uncle.
Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT and the co-author of the eBook technothriller LT. COMMANDER MOLLIE SANDERS. Phyllis is the co-founder of the marketing consulting company Miller Mosaic LLC, which works with clients to attract more business. Read her posts at the company's social media marketing blog.
Visit the site of Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel.