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Andy Serio displays a photo of his uncle, U.S Army Corporal Frank DiPino. After 70 years, Andy and his family’s inquiries into his uncle’s Korean War disappearance may have finally been answered. Andy has prepared a talk on the first year of the Korean War for the Military and Veterans History Group at the Hagaman Memorial Library. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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In his search for the fate of his missing uncle, Andy Serio learned a lot about the Korean War and soon, he may have a definitive answer about what happened. When he spoke with the Courier, he was preparing for a Feb. 27 talk on the first year of the Korean War to the Military and Veterans History Group at the Hagaman Memorial Library.
“I’m going to follow the first regiments that went [to Korea],” Andy says. “They sent out a small regiment first, followed by my uncle’s regiment.”
Andy’s uncle, U.S. Army Corporal Frank DiPino, was a member of the 3rd Battalion of I Company, 34th Regiment belonging to the 24th Infantry Division. In 1949, DiPino was stationed at Camp Mower in Japan as part of the occupation force.
“No real combat training. They had World War II equipment,” Andy says.
When North Korea invaded its southern neighbor in 1950 backed by Chinese- and Soviet-made tanks and weapons, DiPino’s was among the first two American units deployed in the country as part of Task Force Smith.
“They were trying to help the Republic of Korea’s army and fight of the North Koreans, which didn’t work out too well,” Andy says. “They weren’t equipped for combat.”
After the 34th Infantry landed in Korea, Andy says, they were forced to retreat again and again until they were packed into the southeast corner of the peninsula.
During the Battle of Koch’ang, DiPino’s company became isolated from its allies. On July 29, 1950 DiPino went missing and was never seen again.
As the war went on and the Americans began pushing the North Koreans back, they would search the area for missing or killed soldiers.
“My family didn’t know anything about what happened. My mother, his older sister, would go to the Red Cross and check,” Andy says. “Nothing was found or reported.”
Andy says the news was especially hard on his grandmother, who he says went to her grave believing her son was still alive. With the toll the search was taking on DiPino’s parents, the family eventually ceased the search.
But Andy took up the cause again in 1987 when he was cleaning out his grandparents’ house and found a box of his uncle’s things sent back by the Army. The box held a few mysteries of its own, including a black and white photograph of a child Andy presumed to be Japanese and an incomplete collection of his uncle’s medals.
“What I ended up doing was trying to contact the government, get what military records he had—which was pretty much none because they were all burned in a fire in 1973,” Andy says.
Eventually, Andy got the awards DiPino had earned but hadn’t received.
“Once the Internet came around, I started looking up his division and his regiment and I found the name of the guy that was their historian,” he says.
Andy was invited to the regiment reunion in 1997, where at least one of the mysteries was to be solved.
“There was a North Korean guy there,” Andy says. “He was a kid at the time [of the war]…He was 10 years old when he escaped across the border.”
Before the Korean War and the Americans’ intervention, the boy befriended American soldiers stationed there enough to get himself smuggled to Japan when the units pulled out. There, he must have met DiPino because Andy later discovered that the North Korean man at the reunion was the boy in his uncle’s photo.
“It was really something. That was the only reunion that guy went to and it was the only reunion I went to,” Andy says.
In August, the Coalition of Families, a non-governmental organization dedicated to finding information about lost and missing soldiers of America’s wars, contacted Andy’s family.
Back in 1956, remains of a U,S, soldier bearing two of DiPino’s dog tags and carrying a canteen cup and mess kit marked with his name had been found in the vicinity of where he went missing.
“It’s probably due to their guidelines. If there’s not an exact match, if you tell the family, you’re going to get their hopes up,” Andy says. “That information wasn’t let out.”
Because the remains were missing teeth and could not be exactly identified, they were eventually taken with other unknowns to Honolulu.
“The government is going to exhume all of them and do DNA testing,” Andy says.
Four members of Andy’s family have sent DNA to be tested against the remains. When the bodies are exhumed, they may have the answer to a nearly 70-year-old disappearance.
To nominate a Person of the Week, email Nathan Hughart at n.hughart@Zip06.com.
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