Air Force Capt. Troy "Gordie"
Cope poses on the wing of his F-86 Sabre Jet some time
before the September 1952 Korean War mission on which he
was last heard from. His wife's name, "Rosie."
is painted on the side. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Chris Cope, who was born too late to ever know his uncle,
calls this homecoming an extraordinary example of the U.S.
military's longstanding commitment to bringing its fallen
servicemembers home so they can be returned to their families.
It's a promise Army Brig. Gen. W. Montague Winfield, head of
the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base,
Hawaii, says the nation will carry out "no matter how long
it takes" or how challenging the circumstances.
In Cope's case, that took decades of keen detective work,
intense political negotiations, a month-long recovery operation,
and state-of-the-art identification technology -- all fueled by
Cope took off from Kimpo Air Base, South Korea, on Sept. 16,
1952, as part of a fighter sweep to protect other U.S. air
missions across North Korea. The flight headed north toward
"MiG Alley," an area near the Yalu River that
separates North Korea from China.
Cope and his wingman, Capt. Karl Dittmer, encountered four
MiG-15 aircraft near Yalu and engaged in a ferocious aerial
dogfight. Dittmer was able to chase away several of the MiGs but
lost radio and visual contact with Cope in the dense clouds.
For the next 52 years, Cope was listed as "missing in
action," with U.S. efforts to get information about him
from the Chinese and North Korean governments hitting a brick
Chris Cope said he never knew his uncle, but grew up hearing
much about him from his family, particularly his father, Air
Force Maj. Carl Cope, who served as a pilot during World War II.
"They never gave up hope of finding out what happened to
him," Cope told the American Forces Press Service.
Yet for many years, the family struggled with the difficulty
of not knowing the missing airman's fate and wondering if they
ever would. "To see what my dad and his brothers went
through, I can tell you that the 'not knowing' portion is just
devastating," Chris Cope said.
In 1988, the family, fearing they might never find the
closure they so desperately wanted, held a memorial service in
Norfolk, Ark. Now, 17 years later, the family is again making
plans to honor Gordie Cope -- but this time with an actual
burial at a military cemetery in Plano, Texas, on May 31.
A chance observation by an American tourist and increased
cooperation between China and the United States on POW and MIA
cases helped provided the break in DoD's investigation of the
In 1995, a U.S. businessman traveling in Dandong, visited the
military museum there and noticed a display that included Cope's
military dog tag, as well as those of two other U.S.
servicemembers. The businessman copied the information and
reported it to U.S. authorities.
Again, repeated inquiries to both the Chinese and North
Korean governments came up with no new information.
But four years later, analysts working for the Defense
POW/MIA Personnel Office discovered documents about Cope's
shootdown in archives in Podolsk, Russia. Their records search,
possible through an agreement with the U.S.-Russia Joint
Commission on POW/MIAs established in 1992, revealed extensive
details about the case, according to Norm Kass, who directs the
office's Russia division.
Included were statements and drawings by the Russian pilots
flying the MiG-15s for the North Koreans and detailed reports
about the ground search carried out by Russian and Chinese
officials at the crash site.
Now armed with enough information to launch a recovery
mission, the U.S. government went to the Chinese and got the
green light to move forward.
In May 2004, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command sent a team
of specialists to Dandong to excavate the site. There, they
carried out a month-long mission, recovering human remains and
aircraft parts at the crash site.
Chris Cope flew to China to observe the first two weeks of
the mission. "This was just too significant not to be a
part of," he said.
Cope said he was "elated" when the team began
uncovering items they believed belonged to his uncle, including
a size 8 boot heel. "There was no question in my mind that
we had found Gordie's remains," he said.
But the military requires far more concrete evidence before
making an official identification. They returned the Joint
POW/MIA Accounting Command headquarters in Hawaii in July 2004
and went to work at the command's Central Identification
Laboratory, which uses state-of-the-art techniques to help
determine the identity of recovered remains.
In just over three months, the lab staff was able to
positively identify Gordie Cope, and Air Force officials
notified the family.
Chris Cope said the resolution of his uncle's case brings
tremendous relief to his family and proof that the military
lives up to its commitment to make every effort to bring a
missing servicemember home.
He said there's "no question" that the military
went the extra measure to resolve an extremely complicated,
As the family plans the funeral -- to be held just one day
after Memorial Day and exactly one year after Chris Cope
observed the recovery operation in China -- Cope said he plans
to invite four other families of missing servicemembers to
"During the funeral, we want to pay tribute to
them," Cope said. He's hopeful his own family's story will
give them hope that their loved ones' fates will also be
"This sends a message to never lose hope," he said.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs
Jerry D. Jennings led a delegation to China to thank the Chinese
for their help and to explore more opportunities for the two
countries to work together on POW and MIA cases. Among issued
discussed were options for reviewing documents related to POW
camps where Americans were held during the Korean War.
Jennings said "there's much more work to be done,"
but added he's confident that the just-concluded discussions
"will move us forward on several cases."
||A team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at
Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, conducts a site
excavation in Dandong, China, where Air Force Capt. Troy
"Gordie" Cope's remains were recovered.
||High resolution photo
the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War
2003 is a noteworthy occasion, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the
end of the Korean War.
To pay tribute to this anniversary, the ROK Government is planning a variety of events to honor the Allied Forces war veterans from
all over the world, as well as from Korea. This will be also be a time for Koreans to express sincere respect and appreciation to the
surviving veterans and their family members. An additional goal of the commemoration is to promote friendship and goodwill among
our allies, who generously demonstrated their commitment to world peace and freedom by sending their troops to Korea 50 years ago.
The commemoration will run from June 25, 2000, to July 27, 2003. These dates will mark the 50th anniversaries of the outbreak of
the war and the signing of the Armistice Agreement ending the conflict. Fifty-two commemorative events, including the 50th Anniversary
Commemorative Ceremony, will be held in conjunction with various domestic and foreign commemorative functions.
These events will pay homage to the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the Korean War under the United Nations flag.
They will also express a profound sense of gratitude to all foreign veterans for their friendship.
We will welcome all peace and freedom-loving people of the world who believe that "Freedom is not free, but through strength comes
peace with freedom." We especially welcome all Korean War veterans who wish to revisit and remember the heroic battles they fought
in a faraway land.
We will wholeheartedly welcome all war veterans to Korea so that they may share the special memories and affection of Korea with
each other and the Korean people. In an effort to express its sincere appreciation, the Korean government is doing its best to make
all veterans' trip to Korea pleasant and memorable by providing assistance and services.
To pay tribute to this
anniversary, the ROK Government is planning a variety of events
to honor the Allied Forces war veterans from all over the world,
as well as from Korea. The commemoration is to promote
friendship and goodwill among the Korean allies, who generously
demonstrated their commitment to world peace and freedom by
sending their troops to Korea
50 years ago.
commemoration will run from June 25, 2000, to July 27, 2003.
These dates will mark the 50th anniversaries of the outbreak of
the war and the signing of the Armistice Agreement ending the
conflict. Fifty-two commemorative events, including the 50th
Anniversary Commemorative Ceremony, will be held in conjunction
with various domestic and foreign commemorative functions
Sun-Yup Paik (Army General, Ret.)
50th Anniversary of the Korean War
A soldier's recount of the early
the latest press releases on the Commemoration Activities, click