Errors in Korean War Casualty Records


Special Forces
Rest In Peace
Jul 16, 2008
Seattle, Puget Sound — PNW
Errors abound on Korean War registries, and group works to correct the record


Fifty-nine years ago this summer, Army Pfc. Benjamin Hower died in Korea.

A Holocaust survivor, immigrant and enlistee in the 1st Cavalry Division, Hower survived only two months into the war, which commenced on this day in 1950 and lasted 37 bloody months.

There’s only one thing wrong with the story.

His last name was Hauer.

For decades, the U.S. government has listed him with what his surviving family says is the wrong spelling. And two men in Dallas who run a Korean War Web site say it’s shockingly common to hear from families that the official casualty list is incorrect.

"We’ve run into hundreds of cases of misspelled names," said Hal Barker, who with his brother, Ted, runs the Korean War Project Web site.

In fact, the Barkers say the mistakes involve more than last names. First names, middle names, hometowns, even countries are wrong, they say, and it’s a tender spot for many families.

"Everybody who ever knew him or heard of him is probably gone, so I didn’t know how big of a deal it would be to anyone else," said Michal Hauer Spitzer, Hauer’s niece and a New York resident. "But my brother named his son after him, and I thought I would ask Hal if he could correct it on his Web site."

The master casualty list from Korea was put together by the Army in the years after the war, then turned over to the National Archives. The list was also given to the American Battle Monuments Commission, which maintains a searchable database of casualties from World War I, World War II and Korea.

It is impossible to know when and how errors might have occurred, though it is likely that some of them were simply data entry mistakes or bad assumptions. In some cases, perhaps the serviceman changed the spelling when he enlisted.

But two officials with the monuments commission in Washington, D.C., said families should contact them if they believe the record is wrong.

"When an error is flagged to us, and it’s in our power to verify it, then we make the correction," said Mike Conley, a commission spokesman. "If it’s not within our power, we’ll send it to the service and ask them to validate it. We’ll do everything we can to get it corrected."

Mistakes from everywhere

Almost 37,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in the Korean War, men whose sacrifice has long been overlooked and relegated to a historical footnote between the glory of World War II and the controversy of Vietnam.

Ted and Hal Barker, whose father served as a Marine officer in World War II and Korea, started the Korean War Project in the early 1990s, offering families a place to post a remembrance and research those still missing in action.

In the late 1990s, when they began studying the list of casualties, the number of killed from the U.S. Virgin Islands jumped out at them. Sixty-nine seemed way too many.
Then they noticed the names. Most of them sounded like Filipino names — Acevedo, Navarra and Tacazon, for example.

"It took about 10 seconds to realize they had to be wrong," Hal Barker said. "Given the number of men who could have been veterans from the Virgin Islands during that time, it would have been the largest grouping of casualties from any U.S. state or territory."

They established contacts in the Philippines and have begun correcting many of the entries to list the home of record as that island chain in the Pacific, not the one in the Caribbean.

By using family contacts and their substantial library of unit histories, the brothers also began correcting the names of Puerto Rican casualties.

"They had last names as middle names, first names as middle names, middle names as last names, you name it," Barker said.

Counties as hometowns

The Barkers have noticed that hometowns are often wrong as well.

Many casualty listings appear to carry the county name as the city. For instance, Tarrant, Harris, Bexar and other counties are listed as hometowns. Most of those from Chicago are listed as having been from Cook, Ill.

"We’ve found in the neighborhood of 10,000 that are wrong like that," Barker said.
Sometimes the families initiate contact on their own.

This week, Larry Bitter in suburban Houston sent a remembrance to the Web site about his uncle, who was killed in February 1952 in Korea.

In his message, he requested that the "s" be removed from his uncle’s last name. His name was Marine Sgt. John L. Bitter, not Bitters.

"I really didn’t expect anyone to give a damn," said Bitter, a Vietnam veteran. "I was of the opinion, and I know my dad certainly was, that it’s just the way it was. Nothing could be done."

But the Barkers changed the spelling in their database and promised Bitter that they would inform the small town in Maryland where John Bitter’s name is incorrectly engraved on a memorial.

"It’s really exciting to do this," Barker said. "The requirement is so huge, and the interest is so small. We are often the place of last resort for families."

Where to get help If you believe that there is a mistake in a relative’s listing as a casualty of the Korean War, you can e-mail or call 703-696-6900. E-mail is preferred. The American Battle Monuments Commission will research whether it is the group’s error or whether it is listed that way with the National Archives. More investigative work will be needed to determine whether a correction is warranted.

CHRIS VAUGHN, 817-390-7547

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Tragic, but not shocking. Almost all of us have had DD-214's that were wrong.

I feel for these men and their families.