Tuesday, 29 January 2008

On the trail of his family's hero


For nearly a year Cary Turner has told the story of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Hargrove -- of how he was left behind on the small Cambodian island of Koh Tang in 1975 and of the years it took before his family began to learn the truth.

And for almost that long, Turner has been telling people that he wants to watch the members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) team when they excavate his cousin's suspected gravesite -- just to make sure they do their job, just so the family knows every effort was made.

Now, after months of planning and fundraising, he is there, having arrived in Cambodia on Jan. 16.

Before he left, Turner admitted that he was nervous about making the trip -- nervous about the potential of camping out on the island, of not knowing the language or the culture, and of simply being taken out of his comfort zone.

"I'm getting a little bit stressed, a little anxious," he said. "I've been talking the talk and now it's time to walk the walk."

Fortunately, he said via satellite phone last week, things are going better than expected.
"We're in pretty safe here," he said. "It's a beautiful place."

Helping assuage those earlier feelings of nervousness, he explained, was the meeting he had with the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia after arriving.

"He said he was pleased with what I was trying to do for my family. He was supportive of me, and that really made me feel good," Turner said.

The next piece of good news, he continued, was when he, Ralph Wetterhahn (the author of "The Last Battle: The Mayaguez Incident and the End of the Vietnam War") and their Cambodian companions decided that rather than camp out on the island, they would just sleep on a fishing boat anchored off the coast.

But the most reassuring part of the trip has been the contact they have made with the JPAC team.

"Everything's going better than I would have hoped," Turner said. "JPAC's welcomed me with open arms."

Not only, he continued, have they allowed him to watch their excavation efforts, they have even let him get a little bit of hands-on experience with some of the more basic shovel and screening work.

"They're letting me help, so I help a little bit and then get out their way because I know they're just being nice," he said.

And while the team didn't start with the site identified as Hargrove's, he feels sure that when they get there, every care will be taken -- an especially comforting thought since it's unlikely that he will be able to stay in Cambodia long enough.

The team's deployment is expected to last into March. Turner is planning on staying until at least the end of the month.

"I have all confidence that if there are any remains to be found, they'll find them," he said. "Even if I have to leave before they excavate all the sites, I have peace of mind."

Regardless of what happens next, though, he is pleased that he at least had the opportunity to take his quest this far -- and he hopes he will be coming home with M-16 and M-60 shells from where Hargrove and Marine Pfc. Gary L. Hall and Pfc. Danny G. Marshall made their last stand.

"All the effort that's been put forth, this is what it's all about. I'm just glad I'm able to do it," he said.

Gail Hargrove, Joseph's widow, also is thankful for what Turner's been able to do.

"I was real excited to hear from him (last week)," she said. "I'm thrilled that he's over there. I'm thrilled that he made it safely. It's made me feel good how JPAC has responded to him."

By Matthew Whittle

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