Memorial caretaker searches for clues to MIA veterans' fate - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Bobby's Bama

Memorial caretaker searches for clues to MIA veterans' fate

Randy Chapin dutifully searches records to provide closure to the families of soldiers missing in action. (Source: WAFF) Randy Chapin dutifully searches records to provide closure to the families of soldiers missing in action. (Source: WAFF)
FLORENCE, AL (WAFF) -

As one year turns over into the next, there are some military families who are grieving the loss of a fallen loved one - a pain made doubly hard because they don't know what happened.

The service members were listed as "Missing in Action." For a man in Florence, it is his quest to find those soldiers from his home area marked as MIA.

Randy Chapin may not look like it, but he is definitely a private detective on the hunt.

"We recently had some artifacts from an MIA returned here from Italy," explained Chapin, the caretaker of the Veterans Memorial in Florence. "The family was just ecstatic that that was happening after 70 years."

The son and grandson of military men, Randy adopted this as a personal mission a long time ago.

"I've been looking at MIAs from here over the years and it's really... like looking for a needle in a haystack," he said.

Chapin said if he finds someone buried in a national cemetery, the marker usually does not give the soldier's hometown or any background information.

"What you find is a name, a serial number, a branch of service and maybe a regiment division, bomber group... and that's it," he said.

There are still families who have no information about a loved one. Over the years, military searches subsided and eventually stopped. However, that has not stopped Chapin and his quest to find 31 military personnel from the area.

"Four from here were from Pearl Harbor," said Chapin.

The search can be daunting, at best. He says he usually starts his search for information with the military branch where the person served.

"A lot of those things that are recorded are either on microfilm, microfiche - some are even still paper records," he said.

Some of those records are still classified, posing another, more difficult hurdle.

"I don't have the resources to go to Washington to where those big museums are," said Chapin.

Still, he keeps pressing on.

"Sooner or later I'll find them. If I have to go to the National Archives... some way, I'll get there," said Chapin.

His is a patriotic quest which continues... in Bobby's Bama.

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