Watch CBS News

Woman Works To Identify Marine Who Died In Harlem Nearly 20 Years Ago

HARLEM, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A Marine mom is working to identify a veteran who died nearly two decades ago.

It isn't her son, but a man who went without a military funeral and who may have a family still looking for him, CBS2's Magdalena Doris reported.

Look out for SAMs – it's a must in the Marines.

"It's an acronym for Stand Alone Marine, and it's kind of an unwritten etiquette rule," Amelia Pern said.

Marine families never let their brothers go alone, and as the mother of two Marines, it's Pern's mission to fulfill her duty. She has been trying to identify the man for three years.

"He is at an age that his mom could still be looking for him. If I could help give him his name back, I'd like to do that," she said.

Pern admittedly has an unusual hobby. She spends her free time working to identify deceased, unnamed people who have ties to the military.

She scours through state websites looking at the unidentified, posting those who may be veterans on her website.

Now, she needs a crack in a case nearly 20 years old.

The man was found on the subway tracks in Harlem on June 23, 1997.

A photo taken by the New York City medical examiner led her closer to his identity, thanks to his Marine tattoos reading "1st Force Recon" and "Death Before Dishonor."

"I'd been looking for this tattoo for months," Pern said. "My family would sit down and watch TV, and I'd be scrolling on Google."

Finally, she got a hit. The tattoo was designed at a parlor in California near the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base.

"Two things we know -- the man was in Harlem and the man was in Twentynine Palms between 1994 and 1996," she said.

The man was buried in Potter's Field where the unidentified are laid to rest without gravestones or ceremonies.

"It feels so wrong that he was put in a pauper's grave when he should have had a proper funera," Pern said.

So she keeps searching.

"It just seemed so incredible to me that someone who has obviously served was still unidentified after all this time, especially online where you can reach thousands and thousands of people in an instant," she said.

Dental and fingerprint records are on file, but no DNA.

Anyone who recognizes the man is urged to reach out to the New York City medical examiner's office.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.