My Search For Roger and the Door Left Open
Alan L. Brainard, Jr.
Copyright 2023 by Alan L. Brainard, Jr
Photo furnished by the author.
story is about a journey for answers and the unwillingness to believe
someone is dead and to carry that uncertainty for a lifetime. The
lack of the grieving process can be debilitating. To constantly
wonder, where they are; hospitalized or captured and unidentified? An
unreported prisoner of war, killed or died on the way to a prison
camp and not witnessed or reported? The detail of this story is about
a certain kind of “stand-still” that surrounds one’s
heart when there is no closure.
Roger John Weaver, L. Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th
Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
2 November 1950, Unsan North Korea
never knew my uncle Roger, only of him and the medals tucked neatly
and lovingly away in the bottom drawer of my grandmother’s
cedar chest. She lived with us growing up and the chest sat at the
foot of her bed. While snooping through it, as kids will sometimes
do, looking for goodies or presents, I happened upon some medals and
pictures. I could not have been more than 5 or 6 years old then. The
medals were shiny and in special boxes, and they grabbed my attention
and made me curious. Why was something so cool being hidden away?
Though I did not know it then, those medals included a Purple Heart,
a National Defense Medal, a Korean War Service Medal, and a United
Nations Service Medal.
my snooping was discovered, I got my butt whipped, but I kept going
back to look at the treasures my grandmother had hidden away.
continued to be drawn to my grandmother’s hidden treasures,
along with the medals I discovered black-n-white pictures of my
uncle, including his graduation photo from basic training. He was a
handsome, young man, only seventeen, grinning from ear to ear with an
infectious smile that anyone who knew him talked about. There was
also a picture of him muddy and bloodied from a high school football
game. Despite the dirt, he still had that grin. Every picture of
Roger depicted an optimistic, adventurous kid who knew a lifetime of
opportunity was ahead of him. Those things became more special to me
as I grew older.
so young, when I found those things in the chest, they really did not
mean anything to me..
Of course, I has heard about my uncle, but I did not understand war
or death or why these mementos of my uncle were hidden away. However,
these medals are what began (many years later) my quest for answers
about my Uncle Roger. He was Roger John Weaver, Sgt. U.S. Army,
listed MIA on 02 November 1950 and declared dead while missing in
December 1953. As I grew older, I began to feel a sense of loss
myself, and I wanted to get to know him.
learned a little about him through my mother and grandmother, but
they were not very forthcoming. Uncle Roger was the baby
the family. Born September 2, 1932, and the only boy with three older
sisters. There were a few stories about a goat cart that he would
drive around our small village, and a few about the standard sibling
fights he and mom used to have, but not much more. No stories about
growing up, at least none that were memorable enough to recall. No
stories about childhood escapades or girlfriends.
few details about him that I do remember from my mom and grandmother
gave me something to start with. My grandmother had said he was a
“Blue Baby.” Not in the way we know it today; he had
seizures as a baby. He would seize so badly he would stop breathing
and turn blue. After a brief time, his body would relax, and he would
begin breathing again. My grandmother said it had scared her to death
because there was just nothing to do except wait out the seizure and
see what happened, to see if he would start breathing again. The
problem had lasted throughout his infancy but eventually he grew out
of it. As a child he had been hit by a car and broken his collar
bone, but eventually that healed too, leaving a bump on his shoulder.
He was all boy and from all accounts, he turned into a pretty good
was an enormous empty space surrounding Uncle Roger’s memory.
Even a generation away, there is
indescribable emptiness at his loss. He was a spirit that could not
be touched but rather seemed to be there and not there at the same
void was created because it was too hard to talk about Roger as my
family had no closure. For one of them to say, “he WAS
this” or “he WAS that” would mean they
referred to him in the past tense and that would imply he was truly
gone. However, he was missing, and when someone is missing there is
remote hope that they might one day show up on the front step and
say, “I’m home” The hope remained – the door
was left open to the possibility of Roger’s return.
an adult, I suddenly found myself wanting to learn everything I could
about him, his personality, his demeanor. Was he boisterous or
somber, gregarious or a loner? Was he a good soldier, a joker, or a
jackass? I had a desire to not just learn about him but to know him
somehow on some level, and never let him be forgotten.
did tell me that Fred Keyes was his best friend. She said they were
inseparable. If you saw one, the other was sure to be along. Uncle
Roger and I both grew up in the same sleepy, small town. The village
was exactly one mile square, just as the founders had established 150
years earlier. There were more cows in our town than people.
Everybody knew everybody. It was a quaint small town that had its own
unique quirks. The same as thousands of others across the country –
full of hometown patriotism. I contacted the people I
that grew up with Uncle Roger and learned
things about his childhood crushes but no real details. One friend of
my mother’s said he used to hang around with them and that he
had a beautiful singing voice. She said they used to love to listen
to him sing. I knew he was athletic from his football picture. He
should not have had any problems dating as he was a handsome kid if I
do say so myself. This was the extent of what I could learn from his
peers it had been over 50 years ago.
know that Uncle Roger grew up in a loving family. My grandparents, my
mom’s parents, were Quakers. Unfortunately, I do not know a lot
about the Quakers. In fact, I know extraordinarily little. Anything I
do know came from watching the movie “Friendly Persuasion.”
I do know Quakers are family and discipline-oriented pacifists.
However, Grandma never “spared the rod” but never had
much chance to use it. Now I am not saying that we were angelic kids,
my three brothers and I could get into mischief with the best, or
worst of them. We could, however, manage to avoid the spanking. She
would grab the yardstick. We took off and made her chase us around
the house and finally the dining room table. We would giggle and
eventually her stern tone began to fade. As much as she tried to
suppress it, the laugh would start and eventually she would be
laughing as hard as we were. She could not have spanked us then no
matter how bad she wanted. I wonder if she even remembered why she
wanted to spank us in the first place. She held up a good front
though, she would stop and say, “OK, now that is enough. You go
was my “Angel.” I can remember falling asleep on her lap
more than once as a kid. She would rock us in her old platform
rocker. I swear it was as old as she was, and it creaked and squeaked
as she rocked us. I loved that chair. I could not have been more than
four or five when I had the German Measles. I can vividly remember my
eyes burning and my head and body aching. However, the memory of
Grama rocking me in that squeaky platform rocker until I fell asleep
is one of my fondest memories of my grandmother and of my childhood.
She made me feel secure and much loved and I am sure she was no
different with her own children.
mother said my grandfather was much the same as grandma. He was a
hardworking man who had farmed, worked in a factory and a farm parts
and equipment store. He was also known to take in and fix an
appliance or two for the people in town. It
not beyond him either to leave the dinner table to fix this or that
as he called them,
so that someone could finish their evening chores. Mom said he was
the kind of man who put friends and family just below God and ahead
of everything else. He always cared about his kids,
and sometimes took my uncle with him on service calls. On the
weekends when grandpa worked on the farm, Uncle Roger would ride his
goat cart the half mile or so up the hill to visit with him, help do
a few chores and then come back home. I imagine they may have gone
fishing a time or two as well.
life was like for a young impressionable boy at that time during WWII
may well have had a strong effect on what kind of man Uncle Roger
turned out to become. I wonder did he listen to the war reports on
the radio? Did he imagine, like many boys did, being at the front? I
know myself, growing up during the Vietnam era that the reports from
the war made a great impression on me. They were fighting and dying
for America! It made me feel proud and sad at the same time.
my grandfather died in 1949 from lung cancer Roger took it hard. I am
told he found it difficult to go back to school after he lost his
father and seemed to have no direction. Uncle Roger had begun to
cause grandma to worry. Life in a small town is slow and so were
opportunities but mischief was not. So, when Uncle Roger asked to
join the New York State Army National Guard in the autumn of 1949 at
the age of seventeen, grandma agreed, and signed his enlistment
papers. Later she told me that she thought this would give him the
direction and discipline he needed since his father had passed away.
He would still be close to home once his training was complete. It
was only one weekend a month and two weeks a year, and the training
center was only about twenty miles down the road.
the spring of 1950, Roger asked to join the regular army. He had not
gone through basic training yet, but the National Guard life agreed
with him, and his best friend from home, Fred, was going to join as
well. Roger and Fred would still be together. Again, my grandmother
signed the papers. Roger’s army life began. Like millions of
others, he was off to Army Basic Training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Reveille at dawn and bed well after dark. PT, marching, double time,
target range, inspections, more PT, more marching. Barracks
inspection, personnel inspection, crawl through the mud, keep low, do
not raise your head, protect that weapon. Classroom instruction about
the army included your rifle and ranks, who to salute, and who not to
salute. It was all very regimented. Never a dull moment - well almost
never. Sundays were non-training days, just clean the barracks and
take care of your personal stuff before it starts all over again
Monday morning. For 8 weeks it went on. Oh, they did get a chance to
eat, usually, the wait in line was longer than the time left to eat
training was meant to tear a person down from whoever or whatever he
thought he was and build him back up the Army way. To instill
teamwork, a sense of group pride and a winning attitude. Whether it
is called boot camp or basic training, the result is to create a
fighting unit. Some of the guys had trouble with the lack of freedom,
discipline or just being away from home. It did not seem to bother
Roger though. By the time he graduated basic training, Roger was in
good shape and had an attitude change.
basic the trainees were granted liberty until they had to report to
advanced training in Fort Devens, Massachusetts for advanced infantry
training. That would be another 8 weeks. But in the meantime, Roger
had a little time to come home. He stopped to visit his and Mom’s
sister Dorothy. She had a teaching job about 80 miles from their
hometown. Aunt Dorothy told me she was not pleased. “Why aren’t
you in school” she had asked him. He told her excitedly he had
joined the army. Aunt Dorothy told me she and Uncle Jim, a WW-II
veteran, had tried to talk him into staying in school but to no
was not much to be said about Fort Devens, but I do not think he was
there for long. Uncle Roger was continuing his training and he and
Fred were enjoying Ft. Devens. The restrictions of basic had been
lifted somewhat and they had more time to themselves. There were
still inspections and some drills to go along with the training but
at the end of the day they were on their own on the base. They were
considered soldiers now and had to be responsible for themselves.
still at Ft. Devans, on the 25th of June 1950,
communist North Korean Army (NKPA) poured across the 38th
parallel invading democratic South Korea. They crossed with seven
divisions, about 75,000 men. The regular training continued at Fort
Devens and from what I understand, no one there thought anything
happening in Korea was going to affect them in Massachusetts. Things
soured rapidly in Korea though and the need for additional troops
increased heavily and quickly. So fast that by the end of July 1950,
South Korea was about to collapse! The call for troops came.
the 30th of June, the United Nations issued a proclamation for North
Korea to withdraw its troops and cease the aggressive actions. We all
know how that worked out. In early July 1950, the U. N. asked for a
coalition of troops to combat the communist North Koreans. A few
hours later, President Truman committed U.S. troops from Japan, known
as “Task Force Smith,” to enforce the U.N. demand. Task
force smith was small compared to the North Korean forces, but it
was, at least something, to show the U.S. commitment to protect
democratic South Korea. By the 2nd of July
had landed in Korea.
division of Korea to North and South came as reparations at the end
of World War II. As a Japanese possession at the end of the war, it
was divided at the 38th parallel by the victors,
North Korea going to the communist Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (USSR) and South Korea going to the United States. An
unsteady peace was holding between the United States, and the USSR
for many years but it was heating up. As an “underling”
of the USSR, the communist government of North Korea was building up
its armaments with the help of the Soviets, North Korea was building
troop strength as well until finally the leaders thought it time to
invade the south to take communism to the rest of the nation.
Fort Devans, the officers gathered men from several different units
and organized them into three battalions totaling about four hundred
men. Roger and Fred were among them. The war had come to
Massachusetts after all and they were most definitely going to be
affected. It was shortly thereafter that they received their orders
to the west coast and Fort Ord and then on to Korea.
knew Uncle Roger was lost in the Korean war and somehow, I got the
idea if I searched hard enough, I might be able to help the army find
Uncle Roger. Unfortunately, my grandmother had passed away by the
time I began searching for information. I checked with my mom and my
aunts about what they knew regarding my uncle’s unit. My mom
could not remember anything about what unit he might have been in,
just that he had taken his basic at Fort Dix, NJ and was later
transferred to Fort Devens, Massachusetts for advanced infantry
training. I wondered how there was so little information.
Dorothy said she remembered something about him being attached to the
1st provincial or provisional army; I began there. I searched the web
but did not find anything specific about the Korean War with that
name. It was not until I found a web site listing casualties of the
Korean War after visiting the Korean War Memorial. It was there
(https://www.koreanwar.org), that I finally discovered Uncle Rogers
unit. In fact, the site gave his company, his battalion, and his
regiment. It also showed the date he was listed as “MIA.” Uncle Roger
had been in “L” company, 3rd battalion, 8th
cavalry regiment, 1st cavalry division. He went missing on the 2nd of
November 1950. I could not believe my luck. I found in less than an
hour what I had been seeking for months. I later found out these
battalions from Ft Devans were known as “The First Provisional
Regiment” That must be what Aunt Dorothy had meant.
went to the site’s “Looking for” section and I
could not believe what I was seeing. Page after page of: “Seeking
information about so and so,” or “Did anyone know so and
so” and many of them all dealt with one date, 2 November 1950,
the same date my uncle had been listed as missing. Some listed the
name, “Unsan.” I had no idea where Unsan was, other than
Korea, or what had happened November 2nd, but
it had been something major. I went ahead and entered my questions,
my “Does anyone have any information,” like so many
others had done, and then I waited. I checked back several times but
there had been no responses.
I found he was in the 8th cavalry, I went to
for the Korean War and discovered what had happened on the 2nd of
November 1950 and in no uncertain terms! The “Battle of Unsan”
had happened. After reading about the ordeal of the 8th cavalry, by
Mr. Joe Matukonis’, U.S.A., Ret., a survivor from the HQ.
Company of the 3rd battalion of the 8th cavalry and that found in the
8th Cavalry history, I began to recognize how naive it was for me to
believe I could ever find my uncle. I intensified my efforts though
to find answers. Maybe I could let mom know what had happened and she
could finally have some closure. For several years thereafter I read
books and documents. I went to the National Archives only to find
most of the records had been lost in a fire. I read and talked to any
friends or family who might have information about Uncle Roger.
learned the 8th had been in the fight from their arrival in Korea.
After speaking directly with Mr. Matukonis, he said “they came
off the transports, dropped all but essentials and directly onto the
line”. Fighting was tough and back and forth until relief came
by way of the invasion of Inchon in September1950. After that the
North began to withdraw in fear of being cut off. From then on things
moved rapidly. By October UN forces, including the 8th,
were in North Korean territory and rumors were circulating about
being home for Thanksgiving.
MacArthur wanted to continue all the way to the “Yalu,”
the North Korean border with China. Some suspect even farther. China
had different ideas. Forces had pushed so far so fast China became
worried that MacArthur did want to go farther. They began to send
troops to their border and in mid-October began entering North Korea
with multiple divisions. By October 31st, the Chinese had reached
Unsan along with the 8th.
on Halloween night 1950, the Chinese, with three divisions, and
overwhelming manpower began attacking South Korean troops North of
Unsan. The US 8th Cavalry was holding positions
East and Southeast of Unsan. The battle officially lasted from
November 1st to November 3rd
but the 3rd
battalion 8th Cavalry, Uncle Roger, and Fred’s
battalion was overrun on the early morning of November 2nd.
By the 3rd of November, the 8th
been wiped out. At least to the point of no longer being a viable
fighting force. During the fight Uncle Roger, along with multiple
others became lost and their bodies were not recovered. Uncle Roger
had only just turned eighteen two months before. Though Fred survived
as a prisoner of war, Mom said he was never the same after he came
home. Another type of loss. There, but not.
Korean War had many monumental battles. Some of us have heard about
battles such as Inchon, Pork
Heartbreak Ridge, Bloody Ridge, and the Chosin Reservoir. Few of us
have ever heard about the Battle of Unsan. At least, I never had. It
was just one of many battles fought over the course of three years in
that forgotten war.
It was neither the costliest nor deadliest battle of that war,
by any means. It
certainly leave an impact on the Army, the cavalry, and
families back home.
although Fred had survived and escaped the battle after the retreat
was ordered, he was captured on the outskirts of the battlefield. He
spent the remaining three years in a prison camp in North Korea.
According to mom, when he came home, he was not the same. He was full
of anger, anguish, and remorse and never could talk about Korea or
Uncle Roger. By the time I was doing my research, Fred had already
passed away, this was another I had reached a dead end.
know my family’s story is not significantly different than the
stories of other families impacted by the Korean war, or the many
wars that preceded or have followed it. It may not be that much
different from families who have relatives missing for other reasons.
Only the circumstances of the disappearance change. During every war,
many families experience the pain of loss when someone special to
them fell or went missing in combat, a special young soldier, sailor,
airman or marine for whom they worried and wondered.
has been interesting and
rewarding with its twists and turns, its roadblocks, and dead ends
and thus far continues.
is not about the battle; it is about loss and the continuing
uncertainty that goes along with the word “MISSING.” This
is my analogy: much the same as the empty place setting at the dining
table or the missing man in an aircraft formation fly over, I see a
missing soldier as “the door left open.” Most people
would not think about entering a house and closing the door behind
when someone else is yet to come in. If they do not enter right away,
the door may be held open. If not, you may close the door expecting
it to be re-opened at any moment when they enter.
become a constant loop of anticipation at first which graduates to
expectation. You may open the door to look now and then, and you
cannot close the door when you expect someone else. From there,
anyone unexpected becomes a possibility of the one you are waiting
for. Eventually there is a realization that no one is going to come
through the door anymore.
grandmother never let go, nor did my mother or Aunt Dorothy. At least
not completely, and not until many years later when they finally
resigned themselves to the inevitable. Aunt Ruth though had accepted
his loss on the day he was declared dead in December 1953. She
grieved his loss and she moved on. That may sound callous, but I
think overall, healthier. She did not carry the burden of “if”
or “when.” She did not have to hold the door open. It had
have all passed away now, some without ever completely giving up
hope. I know Uncle Roger he has passed away and yet I carried that
sense of “maybe” for a good-many years. The same that I
saw in my mother and grandmother. But I too, along with the rest of
the second generation, hold out hope that he may one day come home. I
know the odds of him returning alive are nil due to the time passage
and his age,
is up to us now, the nieces and nephews, to carry the torch on and
keep the door open for Uncle Roger. I still carry a slim hope that
his remains might be found and brought home to lay beside his mother
and father and sister. I fear however politics stand in the way.
name is Alan Lee Brainard Jr. Son of Marjorie, third daughter of
Edith Weaver and next older sister to Roger. I am one of his eight
nieces and nephews. I am a high-school graduate with some college and
Navy veteran as a Hospital Corpsman. I am retired now from an EMT and
Medic after 42 years with 30 in conjunction with that of a career
firefighter. Currently, I work as a Fire Safety Marshal for a
state-run long term care facility.
now reside in South Central Pennsylvania with my wife though we both
grew up in upstate-upstate NY near Binghamton. I have two wonderful
daughters who married two great guys and four grandsons.
am an avid history enthusiast and enjoy my family, camping, NASCAR,
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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