Daughter of missing Korean War veteran remembers the father she never knew

Matt Saintsing
August 09, 2018 - 3:55 pm

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christian Clausen

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Melody Raglin, 67, never knew her father, Erwin Doyle. His reconnaissance aircraft, a Navy P2V-3 Neptune, was shot down on November 6, 1951, by two Soviet La-11 fighters while on patrol in the Sea of Japan. Melody was just one-year-old. 

She’s one of the more than 760 family members of U.S. service members who went missing during the Korean and Cold Wars who traveled to Arlington, Va. Thursday to attend a gathering organized by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. 

Photo by Matt Saintsing

“To this day, I don’t know if his plane was shot down over water or if it landed on land,” says Melody. “I still don’t know.” That uncertainty has fueled years of research and a connection with her father, whom she never had the chance to know. 

A career sailor, Erwin enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938 out of San Francisco, Calif. He served in the Pacific during World War II, at first on the USS Stratford, a transport ship, and then on the Northhampton-class cruiser, the USS Chester. 

When the Korean War broke out, Erwin and his wife were living in Hawaii. Melody was born at Tripler Army Medical Center, just outside Honolulu, but never got to meet her father who was called away to Naval Air Facility Atsugi, about 22 miles southwest of Tokyo. 

As an aviation technician with VP-6 Patrol Squadron, he routinely flew on weather reconnaissance missions over the Korean Peninsula and the Sea of Japan. On November 6, 1951, his aircraft took off but never returned. 

A website "dedicated to preserving the history and memories of the shipmates of Patrol Squadron Six" describes the attack. Her father's plane was flying over international waters, however, Soviet forces claimed the aircraft violated their airspace. The Russians fired on the plane. It burned, fell to the water, and exploded about 18 miles from the shore killing the entire crew. 

Melody finds a sense of community and family whenever she interacts with another family member of an American service member still unaccounted for. And she’s done extensive research since the early 1990s, tracking down the families of all 10 of the aircraft’s crew members. 

“We’re a family, we are totally a family,” says Melody. “We all have our own unique stories and each and every one of us feels for each other.” 

Through her own investigations, Melody found a diary of her late father’s time on the Chester, which she shared with one of Erwin’s shipmates, who was elated to get the chance to read the words of his wartime friend. “It was a beautiful connection,” she adds. 

Erwin Doyle was just 33, but Melody says he was “considered the ‘old guy’” when the plane was shot down. The youngest sailor aboard was 20. 
There’s a good chance that his aircraft went down over water, and as such, the chances to ever recover her father’s remains are quite slim. But anytime any American remains are identified, she cheers with the family. 

“Even if just one is identified, we all rejoice,” she says.

Her mother never remarried and kept hope that one day her long-lost Erwin would walk through the door, a sentiment that carried on to Melody once she grew older. 
Melody remembers moving away from their home in San Francisco to the suburbs when she was eight. “How is he going to find us if we move?” Melody angrily asked her mother with tears flowing down her face. 

Her mother said nothing. She passed away in 1995. 

Melody wasn’t interested in college when she first graduated from high school. Instead, she chose to travel to places where her late father had been, where he had walked. She traveled from Kodiak, Alaska to Jackson, Fla. 

She makes her way back to Hawaii once a year, she says, because that’s the place where her family was together last. 

The other men lost were: 

Lt. JG Judd C. Hodgson, USN; Lt JG Sam Rosenfield, USNR; Ens. Donald A. Smith, USNR; AD1 Paul F. Foster, USN; AO1 Reubens Baggett, USN; AL2 Paul G. Juric, USN; AD3 Jack Lively, USN; AL2 Ralph A. Wigert, Jr., USNR; AT2 William S. Meyer, USNR.

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