Still Waiting for Danny to Come Home
By Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman, DPAA Public Affairs
Feb. 26, 2020 —
Army Pfc. Daniel Gerrity was a member of Headquarters Battery, 2nd Infantry Division, fighting against the Chinese People's Volunteer Forces near Kunu-ri, North Korea, when he was reported as missing in action on November 30, 1950.
His family later received a telegram notifying them he was missing in action.
Known to his family as Danny, Gerrity was 23 years old when he joined the Army in 1950. But at the age of 17, Danny had his father help him enlist in the Navy during War World II, despite his mother’s opposition. His father died weeks after his enlistment in an accident at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When his mother told him to go to the recruiter to ask for a reprieve, he said, “No, Mom, what would you think if everyone did that? Where would the country be?” Danny was on active duty in the Atlantic bringing supplies for the D-Day Invasion, but was in Australia when the war ended.
Joan Gerrity Whelchel, 95, said her brother was a well-liked, happy person who loved his family and “was always helping someone.” One of five of children, Danny went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York.
“I was married when Danny went missing,” Whelchel said. “The doorbell rang. I remember opening the door and the telegram boy handed us the telegram that said Danny was missing in action. Everyone started crying; we were in shock.”
The U.S. Army subsequently issued a presumptive Finding of Death for Gerrity on June 30, 1951, and declared his remains non-recoverable.
For decades, family members never gave up hope of one day having Gerrity come home. Danny’s mother never locked the door on her Brooklyn home in case he returned.
Gerrity’s younger sister, Carole Gerrity, 80 years old, was 13 and in grade school when her brother was reported missing. In 1993, she learned that the Department of Defense was using DNA analysis to identify personnel unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, and she contacted the U.S. Army to ask why DNA was not being used to identify the recovered remains of losses from the Korean War.
The Department did begin to collect DNA family reference samples (FRS) from Korean War families as a result of her inquiry. Today, as a result, DoD has FRS on file for more than 92% of the 7,600 Korean War unaccounted for servicemen.
Finally, after nearly 70 years of waiting and wondering if their brother would ever be found, the sisters were notified by the U.S. Army Casualty Office in August 2019 that Danny had been identified from the remains of an Unknown that had been disinterred from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) in Honolulu.
“When we received the call that Danny’s remains had been found, the family was shocked and numb,” said Whelchel. “I said, ‘Wait, are you telling me you found a part of my brother?’ I was shocked like it wasn’t real. I couldn’t think. I was so happy and sad. Then to find out in Washington that he had been in Hawaii all those years when everyone was looking for him and many members of his family were still alive - his mother, Anne; his sister, Delcina; his brother, Tom—and he was there all along. I didn’t know what to feel.”
Unfortunately, their joy was short-lived as DNA samples analyzed subsequent to the identification and follow-on scientific validations determined the identification was made in error. This led to the casualty office informing the family that Gerrity had been misidentified.
“When they told us in October that it might not be him because of commingled remains, I didn’t know what to feel,” Whelchel said. “I couldn’t believe it—so many memories again. It didn’t make sense.”
DPAA Principal Deputy Director Fern Sumpter Winbush; U.S. Army Col. Phil Berran, DPAA Medical Examiner; and Greg Gardner, Chief, U.S. Army Casualty Office, met with Gerrity’s family at Whelchel’s home in Danbury, Connecticut, on Feb. 10 to explain how the misidentification was discovered, the steps the agency is now taking to prevent future misidentifications, and, most importantly, to answer the family’s questions.
“This was heartbreaking news we had to deliver to Pfc. Gerrity’s family, and we felt strongly about offering our heartfelt apology in person,” said Sumpter Winbush. “We also wanted to explain fully what happened, while offering the opportunity for family members to voice their frustrations, and then take the time needed to answer all of their questions.”
“I explained to the family that the DPAA Medical Examiner is a physician and told them, ‘As a physician, I took the Hippocratic Oath vowing to do no harm,” said Berran. “‘I acknowledge that we fell short of fulfilling that oath. Today you will get no excuses. You deserve an honest explanation and to have your questions answered.’”
Seventeen members of Gerrity’s family were present for the meeting at Whelchel’s home.
“Of course, this was something that we never ever wanted to happen,” Sumpter Winbush said. “DPAA’s standards are high and we do our best to always get this right for the family. The family was understandably frustrated. They had a lot of questions, which we answered, and they were also very kind and gracious hosts.”
In accordance with DPAA’s laboratory accreditation requirements and quality assurance system, the agency has performed an internal cause analysis of the misidentification, and has arranged for an independent scientific assessment of this case and overall laboratory processes. Both reviews will guide any necessary adjustments to DPAA's identification and laboratory procedures.
"We will learn from this unfortunate mistake, and the lessons we learn and apply will strengthen our efforts in this noble mission," said Kelly McKeague, Director, DPAA.
The sisters are planning to hold a memorial service at a future date at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the memory of their brother.
“Our hope is that out of all of this, no other family will have to endure what our family did,” said Carole.
Today, Gerrity is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at NMCP and at the cemetery in Moscow, Pennsylvania, where his parents are buried.
DPAA has decremented the fiscal year 2019 accounted for total from 218 to 217.
DPAA Public Affairs can be reached at (703) 699-1420/1193 or (808) 448-4500, ext. 3150.