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.
Photo furnished by the author.

This 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.

Sgt. Roger John Weaver, L. Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
MIA 2 November 1950, Unsan North Korea

I 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. When my snooping was discovered, I got my butt whipped, but I kept going back to look at the treasures my grandmother had hidden away.

I 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.

Being 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.

I learned a little about him through my mother and grandmother, but they were not very forthcoming. Uncle Roger was the baby of 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.

The 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 kid.

There was an enormous empty space surrounding Uncle Roger’s memory. Even a generation away, there is still an 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 time.

A 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.

As 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.

Mom 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 could that grew up with Uncle Roger and learned a few 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.

I 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 sit down.

Grandma 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.

My 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 was not beyond him either to leave the dinner table to fix this or that “gadget,” 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.

Whatever 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.
When 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.

In 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 it.

Basic 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.

After 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 avail.

There 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.

While still at Ft. Devans, on the 25th of June 1950, the 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.

On 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 American troops had landed in Korea.

The 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, with 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.

At 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.

I 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.

Aunt 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 (, 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.

I 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 apparently 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.

Since I found he was in the 8th cavalry, I went to their website 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.

I 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.

General 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.

Beginning 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 Northeast, 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 Cavalry had 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.

The Korean War had many monumental battles. Some of us have heard about battles such as Inchon, Pork Chop Hill, 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 did, however, certainly leave an impact on the Army, the cavalry, and many families back home.

Unfortunately, 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.

I 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. The journey has been interesting and rewarding with its twists and turns, its roadblocks, and dead ends and thus far continues.
This 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.

Expectations 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.

My 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 closed naturally.

They 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,

It 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.

My 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.

I 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.

I am an avid history enthusiast and enjoy my family, camping, NASCAR, and football.

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