A dear friend passed away suddenly a few days ago, and the loss I feel is beyond words. Robert Dumas, 90, stopped suffering Feb. 6, at his home in Canterbury, Connecticut.
He was unable to finish his search for his younger brother, who may, after all these years, still be alive in North Korea. Robert, whom I knew as Bob, was himself a decorated veteran of the Korean War, and he kept a faithful vigil for the return of Cpl. Roger Dumas.
Bob arrived in the war zone in the spring of 1952. Roger Dumas had been captured in North Korea in November 1950 by Chinese Communist “volunteers,” who had entered the war.
Roger Dumas, then 18, was imprisoned in the infamous Camp 5, near the Yalu River. There, Communist officers used indoctrination, hunger, threats and brainwashing to induce American captives to collaborate with them. Dumas would not be a turncoat.
After the Korean War armistice was signed July 27, 1953, the U.N. Allies and the Communist sides exchanged prisoners — but not all Americans were repatriated.
Just before he was to be handed over to the American delegation at the Peace Village in Panmunjom, Roger Dumas was suddenly taken away by Chinese Communist guards. Cpl. Dumas was alive, but unlike his fellow captives, he did not come home.
When 1954 came, the Eisenhower administration ordered the unreturned GIs to be “presumed dead.”
Despite eyewitness accounts of live Americans in enemy hands, the power establishment simply wrote them off and made no effort to recover them. That attitude-turned-policy continues to this day.
In the years that followed his own return, Bob worked to call attention to the POWs left behind.
Occasionally, accounts of live U.S. POWs commanded attention. Refugees, defectors and visitors came out of Communist China or North Korea and told of seeing aging black and white men — clearly distinct from the people around them — working in factories or on farms.
Bob sued the Army in federal court, and he won a partial victory. The judge, after hearing Roger Dumas’ fellow captives tell of seeing him alive, ordered the Army to change his status from “dead” to POW, at least between the years 1950-53.
The case gained brief national publicity in early 1983, as this true Korean War story intersected with the hoopla over the final episode of CBS’s long-running war comedy series M.A.S.H.
Frustrated by Washington’s inaction, Bob himself reached out to North Korea. Bob talked many times with North Korean diplomats at that country’s mission to the United Nations in New York. He described the meetings as cordial, with no name-calling or propaganda harangues.
When Bob asked one ambassador in particular, Pak Gil Yon, if his brother was still alive, Pak stopped short of giving a definitive answer. Bob recalled Pak telling him repeatedly, “Mr. Dumas, my country wants to settle this issue, but your government will not talk to us.”
Dumas met with well-known civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson. Jackson had secured the release of a Navy pilot shot down in Syria in 1984.
Jackson was willing to go to North Korea and seal the return of Roger Dumas and other Americans held there. For reasons not clear, the State Department in 1987 barred Jackson from traveling to Pyongyang.
The story continues, exceeding the time and space allotted here. Remember: Bob and his brother were loyal to their country. Their country — at least the government — failed to keep faith with them.