'He'll never be forgotten' Home: After 46 years of questions, Henry McIntosh Jr.'s relatives have answers -- but not the ones they hoped for.

March 21, 1997|By Cheryl L. Tan | Cheryl L. Tan,SUN STAFF

For 46 years, the McIntosh family lived with a ghost. His name was Henry McIntosh Jr., a handsome face in a photo frame that no one could look at without feeling a lingering ache and wondering, "Where is he?"

The question was answered when McIntosh finally came home to Baltimore last week in a shiny, silver casket. Almost as remarkable as his return after all these years is the way his relatives kept him at the center of their lives through the decades.

McIntosh was a 26-year-old corporal in the Korean War when he was reported missing in action Feb. 14, 1951. The Army declared him dead three years later when there was still no trace of him and promoted him to sergeant.

In 1993, a South Korean farmer found McIntosh's remains as he was cultivating land. Using dental records and dog tags, the Army made an identification. The remains were sent to his family last week for a military funeral that will take place today at 11: 30 a.m. at March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave.

McIntosh's case is rare, according to U.S. Army officials. In the last 10 years, officials said, fewer than 10 U.S. soldiers' remains have been found in Korea. After years of yearning and wondering, McIntosh's family members are glad to get an answer. The problem is, it's not the one they were looking for.

"For all these years, it's been on my mind," said Bareda Williams, 81, McIntosh's elder sister. "I had a feeling that he would survive, that God would take care of him. I always hoped that he would return in some manner. Well, this is my brother, and he's dead, and I'll never see him anymore. What can you say? What can you really say?"

McIntosh was born and raised in West Baltimore, the fourth child in a family of six and loved dearly by the three sisters before him.

"He was the first boy in the family and the youngest of all of us sisters," said Williams, a retired housekeeper. "So we always thought he was special."

Williams and Rufus McIntosh Sr., the only siblings who survive, said their brother was an ambitious, charming and good-looking man who loved playing touch football with the neighborhood kids.

Henry McIntosh Jr., known as "Bubby" to his family, was drafted in 1943 and served in World War II while the army was still segregated. After his honorable discharge in 1946, he went to college in North Carolina for a degree in commercial art. There, he met and married his wife, Gloria, in 1948.

The couple was planning to buy a house and start a family when he was sent to Korea two years later, Williams said. There, he was captured and died of malnutrition, according to the Army report.

Tapestry of tragedy

McIntosh's disappearance wove tragedy into his family's life. After he was declared missing in action, his mother sat staring out the front window every day, clutching the telegram that said her Bubby was gone. She died of a stroke seven months later.

Three of his sisters died still hoping he would come back someday. His young wife suffered an emotional breakdown and died in the mid-'80s having never remarried. Family members spent all their lives asking soldiers they knew who came back from Korea whether they'd seen Bubby. They asked anyone going overseas to look out for him.

"It really affected our whole family," said Williams. "You always thought about him."

The first Christmas was especially hard with Henry and their mother gone, said Rufus McIntosh, 68, a retired custodian.

"That was a real sad time, but we couldn't dwell on it too much because sadness will make you sick if you keep at it," he said. "You pray about it, talk about it and just try to have a halfway decent Christmas."

Christmas and other family holidays in the years after got easier, but Rufus McIntosh never forgot the pain of losing his brother, who had been a role model.

"When you look at people on TV or around you, you think, all of them guys got two brothers, one brother, five brothers, and you say, that's the only brother I had and I lost him," he said. "I always felt he would come back. He was a good athlete, a pretty strong guy. He knew how to take care of himself, so I thought he would come back. That's what we all thought."

A letter remembered

Josephine Martin, Henry McIntosh's niece, didn't know what to think all these years. When Uncle Bubby left, she was in elementary school and it was a bewildering time. Martin, now 55, said she missed talking to or just hanging out with her uncle. But she said a letter he wrote to her from Korea shaped her childhood and early adult life.

"He told me it was important to be a good girl to continue in school, get your education, it's important to share with others, and that has always stuck," said Martin, a teleservice representative.

Martin has made sure her children know their grand-uncle Bubby, too, not just from her stories about him, but also from pictures and some of his amateur artwork that she displays in her house.

"He's part of our history," Martin said. "It's important that they know."

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