CAO helps bring closure to family after 60 years
September 18, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- At 19 years old, Richard Clapp was like many young Americans who chose to enlist in the Army. Though he knew nothing about the people of South Korea, he was willing to fight for their freedom.
On Sept. 2, 1950, Pvt. Richard Clapp and C Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment came under fire near Yulchon, South Korea. Clapp was killed in action. The Army was unable to identify his remains at the time, and he was buried as "Unknown" in a military cemetery on the Korean Peninsula; later moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In 2011, because of advances in technology, his remains were exhumed and identified by the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC).
For Sgt. 1st Class James Shockley, maintenance supervisor with 602nd Forward Support Company, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, it would be his first opportunity to serve as a casualty assistance officer and serve Clapp's next of kin.
"If it's your day, and this is your additional duty, you get called up to the casualty assistance office and you're given a case. This one for me ended up being seven months," Shockley said.
Soldiers designated for either casualty notification or casualty assistance officer training undergo two days of resident training conducted by their servicing Casualty Assistance Center (CAC) or a certified trainer within the state. After training, these Soldiers are placed on the State CNO/CAO Duty Roster.
"I met Beverly Chase, Clapp's sister, at an Olive Garden in Seattle to sit down with her for the first time. Having a sister myself, I could relate to how I would want her treated if it were me who had died," said Shockley, a native of Clovis, N.M.
Shockley sat down to answer her initial questions, and discuss where she wanted to bury Richard Clapp. In 1950, the Clapp family had an urn in a cemetery in Seattle while his real remains were unidentified in the Hawaii cemetery.
"For the family I provided a better understanding of military policies. We helped her get to Arlington Cemetery, we provided a funeral gratuity. Everything was paid for. Basically, she just had to show up, no worries, no stress," Shockley said.
"As a CAO, you represent the military, but then you're also a voice for the family when they need to contact the Army. You work with that family from the day you meet them until the day of the funeral and possibly shortly afterwards," Shockley said.
"My job was to take care of her. You do your daily job, but if the (grieving family) needs anything, you need to listen. Whatever's going on in your life gets put aside to focus on that family. They're going through a lot."
For sixty years, the remains were named with the designation X-51, and were remains of six possible Soldiers. It was a chip in the tooth that was the determining factor that provided a positive identification.
"It was quite a shock to learn that he was finally identified," said Clapp's younger sister, Beverly Chase, now 78 years old. "My parents had gotten a telegram (in 1950) saying that he had died in action. That they were sure he was dead but they couldn't identify the different bodies that had been taken out that day."
The identification effort used circumstantial evidence, forensic identification tools such as radiograph comparison, and dental records to identify Clapp, according to the Defense Department statement.
Chase and her family were overwhelmed.
"They were definitely relieved, and it was good to see that on Beverly's face. She was confused at first, but as I got to know her over seven months, she was very thankful for what we do," Shockley said.
Shockley joined Chase and her three daughters whey they attended the funeral services, April 25. Private Richard Erwin Clapp was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
"I was really excited we were able to have him interred at Arlington," Chase said. "I think that's a real honor."
"Richard Clapp wanted to join, serve his country and help out his family. I got to know the family well, and it was good to finally see family pictures of him, to put a face to the name of a Soldier whose case I'd been handling," Shockley said of his first and only case.
There are still approximately 7,900 Americans whose remains are unidentified from the Korean War.
"JPAC stays busy, they still are looking. This is one success story out of that. Through all of this, now we're life friends; (Beverly Chase) still calls to this day to see how I'm doing. She moved back to this area from Georgia, so we'll actually go see her from time to time," Shockley said.
"To bring closure to that family was an awesome feeling. Being in the Army, we see a lot of bad. But that promise that they'll bring you home - that was an honor for me to see, a rewarding experience."