James Vaughn Harrell – Sergeant, United States Marine Corps

From a press report: February 2, 2002

A U.S. Marine missing since 1953 was laid to rest at long last yesterday in Arlington National Cemetery.

About three dozen people attended services for radar operator Sergeant James “Red” Harrell, who was 21 when his plane disappeared while returning to its base at Kunsan, South Korea, on May 30, 1953.

Sergeant Harrell's niece, Jimmie McClung, eulogized the uncle she was named after as “a man who believed in God and country and chose to join the Marines at a time when his country needed him.” She was presented with an American flag, her uncle's dog tags and the belated thanks of a grateful nation.

Mrs. McClung, a 2-year-old girl when Sergeant Harrell disappeared nearly half a century ago, joked about the difficulties she endured going through life with a man's name. But she turned serious to describe the bond she felt it created between her and the uncle she never knew.

“I think my uncle would have thought that was quite humorous,” she said, “and I also think we would have been quite close.”

She said she and her husband had spent years making inquiries into her uncle's disappearance, to no avail. “Now our search is over,” she said, breaking into tears at the pulpit. Charles Harrell, Sergeant Harrell's nephew, came to honor a promise he made to his father, who died in 1986 not knowing the fate of his brother. “One of the last things he asked me to do was attend the service if they ever found his brother,” Mr. Harrell said.

Sergeant Harrell's remains were found last summer on a beach just miles from the base in Kunsan. The pilot of the plane, Captain James B. Brown, is still missing.

After the service, the flag-draped casket containing Sergeant Harrell's remains was escorted to the grave site by an honor guard of Marines, who fired a 21-gun salute in a steady rain. As a lone bugler played taps, the rain lessened. And as the honor guard strode in formation from the grave site, the sun came out.

At least one former Marine could be seen dabbing his eyes.

Three members of Sergeant Harrell's squadron, the Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron 513, nicknamed the “Flying Nightmares,” attended the service.

At a reception afterward, Mrs. McClung shared yellowed photographs Sergeant Harrell had sent home decades ago. His squadron mates identified themselves and the other young men that appeared in the photos, stopping with each picture to tell a story.

Squadron member Ron Harbison balanced himself with his cane as he lifted a foot, muddied from standing at the graveside of his friend, to demonstrate the crouch required to fit in the radar operator's seat.

“You've changed,” Harold Ruddy said, teasing his bespectacled, white-haired squadron mate, Ron Stout Mr. Stout recalled the night Sergeant Harrell was lost. They were flying separately in Douglas F3D-2 “Skynights,” a “primitive” jet that was used to escort packs of about a dozen B-29s on nightly bombing missions into the North, he said. Returning from a mission deep in North Korea, he recalled a final radio conversation he had with Sergeant Harrell. “We passed through their sector and had to identify ourselves,” he said. “We talked to them on the radio, and Red said they had been relieved and would fall in behind us.”

But Sergeant Harrell's plane never returned.

“By any reckoning they were only two minutes behind us,” said Mr. Stout, who traveled from Burien, Washington, to attend the service,  Mr. Harbison came from Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, and Mr. Ruddy from Long Branch, New Jersey.

“As soon as I heard about this, I said, ‘I'm coming down,'” Mr. Harbison said. To this day, he said, they all still wonder what happened to Sergeant Harrell's plane.

“I'm not saying I think about it every day, but over 49 years, I have thought about it,” he said. “It's something you do because you don't know.”

“It's truly stressful not to recover a friend's body,” Mr. Stout added.

Mike Mankin drove 18 hours with his wife, Ileana, after reading about the service in a Marine newsletter. A former Marine himself, he said he was compelled to come and support Sergeant Harrell's family. “It's because we don't forget our own,” he said.

Arlington National Cemetery: Section 68, Grave 1723

From a press report: February 1, 2002

Marine lost in Korea gets delayed honors

The remains of a U.S. Marine missing since the Korean War will be laid to rest today at Arlington National Cemetery.

Radar operator Sergeant James V. Harrell's plane disappeared while returning to base May 30, 1953, after escorting a convoy of B-29s on a bombing run in North Korea.

His remains were found last summer on a beach just miles from the base in Kunsan, South Korea. Among those planning to attend will be Sergeant Harrell's niece, Jimmie McClung, who lives in Austin, Texas. She was 2 when the uncle  whose name she bears disappeared.

“He's always been a part of my life,” she said.

She said Sergeant Harrell — who was 21 when he was lost — was described as a prankster, a religious and patriotic young man who joined the Marines out of high school.

“I'm greatly relieved because we're going to give him the honors he's due,” said Sergeant Harrell's close friend and squadron mate Ron Stout, of Burien, Washington, who will be at today's ceremony. “It's an article of faith among Marines that you bring your dead home.”

He remembers meeting Sergeant Harrell, or “Red,” in the summer of 1952 at airborne intercept operator school at Cherry Point, North  Carolina. In April 1953 the two men were assigned to the Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron 513, nicknamed the “Flying Nightmares,” based in Kunsan, South Korea. They flew Douglas F3D-2 “Skynights,” a “primitive” jet that was used to escort packs of about a dozen B-29s on nightly bombing missions into the north. The nightly grind took its toll on the men and the machines.  But Mr. Stout clearly remembers the night almost 49 years ago when his friend didn't return. The men's planes were assigned to fly in advance of the convoy at the mouth of the Yalu River deep in North Korea.

Sergeant Harrell's plane was piloted by Captain James B. Brown.

“When we got to a point south of Seoul, we switched to the tower at Kunsan and they were still under the control of a tower farther north. When we parked the airplane and went into base they asked us what happened to Harrell and Brown. We said not too much could have happened to them because they were two minutes behind us.”

The next day Mr. Stout and Sergeant Harrell received letters of promotion to Staff Sergeant.

The squadron could only conduct searches during the day, and then only for a few days. The Air Force took over the search.

“They were never able to find him,” said Mr. Stout, who was 19 at the time.

He speculates it could have been an engine failure caused by the unique design of the F3D-2. The jets ran on gasoline that also served as an engine lubricant, he said. When the plane ran out of fuel, the engine could seize up and cause the plane to explode.

In Austin, Mrs. McClung had spent a lifetime quietly searching for her uncle.  Then in December, she received what she describes as a “bittersweet” call from her mother, Sergeant Harrell's sister, telling her the Marine Corps Casualty Office had used dental records to provide a positive match on remains found last summer on a beach bordering the Yellow Sea near Kunsan.

Mrs. McClung's mother, devastated by the loss of Sergeant Harrell, has chosen not to speak about it.

Mrs. McClung said she was told the discovery of her uncle's remains was made by a passer-by who saw something suspicious while walking along the beach. She said South Korean police were called and then American authorities excavated around the discovery. The remains were taken to Honolulu, where they were positively identified. Dog tags and pieces of a flight jacket were also recovered.

Using the Internet, she found several of her uncle's squadron buddies, including Mr. Stout. Today they will meet, share stories and photographs, and hope the discovery of Sergeant Harrell keeps other families optimistic that their missing loved ones might be returned.

According to the Department of Defense, 88,000 U.S. ervice members are missing in action from all conflicts. The pilot of Sergeant Harrell's plane, Captain Brown, remains one of them.

James Vaughn Harrell of Shreveport, Louisiana
Born November 9, 1931
Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps
Missing in Action – Presumed Dead
Died May 30, 1953 in Korea

Sergeant Harrell was a crew member of a F4U Corsair fighter with the Marine Fighter Squadron 513, Marine Air Group 33, 1st Marine Air Wing. He was listed as Missing in Action while participating in aerial support over Korea on May 30, 1953. Sergeant Harrell was awarded the Air Medal with 2 Gold Stars and the Purple Heart.


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 02/13/1951 – 05/30/1953
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 11/09/1931
  • DATE OF DEATH: 05/30/1953
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 02/01/2002

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