Son of Korean War soldier hopes to finally lay his father to rest

PORTSMOUTH, N.H.  Rick Downes was 3 years old when his father Hal went off to the Korean War. He's been missing ever since.

"I call it the wound that never heals," Downes said. "After a while you get used to having it and it finds a place within you, and you go on, you live life."

He was too young to remember his father, so all he has is a home movie of a 26-year-old with everything to live for.

"You just can't help but look at him and see that he had it together. He had the woman he wanted, he had the family he wanted," Downes said.

Hal Downes was a radar operator in the back of an Air Force bomber which went down during a mission over North Korea. The pilot and navigator were able to bail out, but they didn't know what happened to Rick's father.

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Hal Downes served in the Korean War.

Rick Downes

"The navigator said the plane went down over — finally crashed over a hill and he heard the ammunition going off, and that's all. That's all we know," Downes said.

Two years ago, he flew to Pyongyang to press for the return of not just his father's remains but also those of the 5,300 American servicemen still missing in action in North Korea.

"When I got to go to North Korea, we flew in over where we think my dad's plane went down," Downes said.

"It was all there. The hills that the navigator said the plane went down, there they were," he explained. "It's the closest I've been to him proximity wise since I was 3, and just you never forget that."

Now he is coming close again, this time with a promise by Kim Jong Un to President Trump to return of remains from the war, a promise not yet delivered on.

"You have to really watch your heart here because this all could just fizzle. This could be nothing. It could be everything," Downes said.

Whether Hal Downes ever receives a proper burial is in the hands of the North Koreans. But when you visit the National Mall you will find his image etched into the stone of the Korean War memorial — the face of the missing.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.