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On the Trail of His Family's Hero

by Matthew Whittle, (Duplin County, state legislature and congressional reporter), 1/28/08

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."

Latest E-mail from Sandy Hargrove, 3/08:

I think it is over. I have found out since I spoke with you last that they gave up on Danny and Gary back in 02 when they went. While Cary was there he and Ralph tried to find Em Som. I don't know if that is how you spell his name but that is what it sounds like. Evidently they have started to punish people for their war crimes. So he has changed his name and moved to another provience. Cary found out that once he left the JTF team made a half hearted attempt to dig looking for Joseph. They dug a small hole and left three weeks before they were supposed to. I don't blame anyone. It just shows you if you make enough noise at least you get people to pay you some attention. For a moment somebody cared. Cary spent over $8000. of his own money for this. He and Ralph at talking about going back next January by themselves but I wonder if that will happen. At least for a brief period in time somebody remembered that Joseph was there and tried to do something about it. Good people are out there and they care. Joseph knows that and I can feel him smile.

Sandy Hargrove

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