Lost soldier's family found in Grayson

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

When the Korean War ended more than 50 years ago, the enemy never returned or accounted for more than 8,000 American servicemen.

Since that time, DNA matching has been perfected and more and more remains are being recovered in North Korea.

The government is obligated to return those remains to their families, and Harold Davis — a 78-year-old combat veteran of the Korean War — is working with the U.S. military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) to ensure all those soldiers' remains are sent home.

Davis contacted The Gazette earlier this month hoping for assistance in finding the family of a soldier from Grayson County that the government had no contact with.

The soldier — Talmage Johnson Sexton — was born Nov. 29, 1926 and was listed lost as a prisoner of war on July 12, 1950.

Local genealogist Buford Wilson assisted in the search, and within a week's time was able to find a match.

Davis' letter was forwarded to Wilson, who then went to work.

He began with the 1930 U.S. Census. According to Wilson, there were 36 Sexton families listed in the census for Grayson County.

“I found him in the 35th one,” Wilson said of locating Sexton's father, Walter.

Wilson, a member of the Grayson County Heritage Foundation, used a book currently in the works to find where Sexton's parents were buried — the Saddle Creek Cemetery in Grayson.

“I would assume that, if the remains are recovered, they would be buried there, also,” Wilson said.

Once he knew that, Wilson went to the Galax Public Library to look at old obituaries in past issues of The Gazette on microfilm.

Wilson said Sexton's mother was listed as a parent of three children, and had died in 1950.

“Sexton was stationed in South Japan when she died,” he said. “His brothers and sisters lived up in the Fox community of Grayson.”

Sexton's father died nine years later, and Sexton was not listed as a surviving son.

The obituary did include a son, Paul, and daughter, Ruth, who lived in North Carolina at the time.

Wilson said Sexton's father was married several times, and he found a half-sister of Sexton's who lived in Fries.

“I contacted her and got the information about Ruth,” Wilson said. “Her husband has passed away, and I was told she was living in Mouth of Wilson.”

After calling and speaking with Ruth's daughter, Wilson said he was told that Ruth would be willing to give the necessary DNA sample.

“Genealogy is one of the main things we do,” Wilson said of the Grayson County Heritage Foundation. “We help people track their families.”

Once Wilson knew a name, he sent it to Davis, who said he would get the family in touch with the necessary people to obtain the DNA sample.

Wilson hopes — whether the remains are found or not — to get a proper military marker in honor of Sexton's service to America. Plans are to set the stone in the same cemetery where his parents are buried.

“The man deserves a stone,” Wilson said.

The entire process took less than a week, and Wilson said the key was using the cemetery book and old microfilm Gazettes to track down the family.

Sexton is one of 24 servicemen that Davis is busy tracking down families for. His part in the program is to match up the families with the proper agencies, to ensure proper burial when the remains are found.

“I consider this a very noble cause,” Davis said.

After being given Ruth's name last week, Davis said the family is in contact with the Casualty Office and is providing the DNA that is needed.

One down, 23 to go.

• To learn more about the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, visit www.jpac.pacom.mil/