Return of Korean War airman's remains brings closure for widow
By Ben Szobody • STAFF WRITER • July 3, 2008

Like a "time bomb," the missing Korean War remains of Margot Robinson’s husband overwhelmed her Thursday with a blitz of jarring, final details she’s lived more than half a century without.

Air Force Capt. William K. Mauldin, a Pickens-born reconnaissance pilot who flew low with a camera over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, had married the German translator four years earlier after meeting her in World War II, then disappeared in another war somewhere over Sinan-ri.

His commander never saw the hit that took him down, not even a wisp of smoke, and Robinson has lived ever since with the rudimentary knowledge that a three-day search found no wreck and that an Air Force declaration a year later assumed him dead.

Into the void rushed Thursday’s public identification of Mauldin’s remains and the tumultuous weeks that privately led up to it.

At the beginning, a 1952 yellow drugstore telegram. At the end, a 21st century DNA swab. And very little in between.

There was only a single male family member to provide the definitive DNA sample, said Robinson, who is remarried to Alfred Robinson, the Easley owner of Robinson Funeral Home. After decades of silence, she’s spent the last few weeks pulling herself together and meditating on the arrival of closure.

Sometime next week, she’s not sure exactly when, Mauldin’s remains will arrive in Easley from Hawaii for a graveside military memorial service.

The Defense Department said Thursday they were among 208 boxes turned over by North Korea between 1991 and 1994 believed to contain the remains of between 200 and 400 U.S. servicemen. Robinson has wondered, of course, why it took so long to put names with boxes, and she said a government man has told her the North Koreans didn’t keep things separate.

It took years to sort them out.

Among the remains was one set, received in 1993, that the department said included fragments of life-support equipment that was reported to have belonged to an American pilot recovered near Sinan-ri.

Mauldin had gone down there, having left Kimpo Air Base on Feb. 21, 1952, on an aerial reconnaissance mission in his single-engine RF-51 Mustang, flying at 10,000 feet, according to Robinson and the department.

A career Air Force man, he had been in the country two months when he was hit by enemy fire, they said.

A friend who worked at the Pickens drugstore delivered the Western Union telegram, Robinson said. Squadron officers called, saying they hadn’t found a thing on the ground.

"A very horrible feeling," Robinson calls that detail.

His commander had heard him say, "I’m hit," and turned to look at . . . nothing.

He also is survived by a daughter, who now lives in Charleston. He will be buried in Easley next to his son’s grave.

Robinson always held out hope, wouldn’t give up, kept in contact with the Air Force for years. The two of them had lived on the West Coast, but when Mauldin was called to Korea she moved back to Pickens near his family.

Under old German laws, she had given up her German citizenship to marry him, which made living with her family in Europe complicated.

In Greenville, she eventually earned U.S. citizenship, married a man who knew the Mauldin family and had four more children.

At the very least, she always hoped that if someone had buried Mauldin in North Korea she could find out and bring his body home.

Defense officials said they used forensic tools and circumstantial evidence to identify the remains, including mitochondrial DNA studied by scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.

A cousin, himself a senior, provided the sample, Robinson said.

For years, questions. Now, finality.

"I have been very, very upset about it," she said Thursday.

However, she said, it’s always better to know. ... S/80703032