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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July, 2003, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
US twins split by Korean War
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online, Washington

Vince Krepps knows the Korean War is supposed to be the "forgotten war", but he still thinks about it every day.

Vince (left) and Richard Krepps at Fort Lewis
Vince (left) and Richard Krepps enlisted together
Vince and his twin brother Richard went off to fight when they were just 18, but only Vince returned.

Yet it was 48 years before Vince knew what had happened to his twin. And the battle to bring him home goes on to this day.

Ever since they were born just two minutes apart, the boys did everything together.

When they graduated from school in 1949 it seemed natural to enlist in the armed services - there were no other jobs available anyway.

The navy was the twins' first choice. But Richard failed the test so they went for the army, getting in with no problem. "All I had to do was eat two pounds of bananas to make the weight," Vince told BBC News Online.

The Depression-era kids were happy to have enough clothes and three meals a day. It was 1949, the world was at some kind of peace and war was still romantic to young men who saw only the Hollywood version.

Brutal reality

A few short months later war broke out, and the newly trained Krepps twins were shipped across the ocean.

"We were in the same battalion, the same platoon, just different squads. We slept on the same floor at the same barracks. My brother was a field or hill away from me at all times," Vince said.

Vince Krepps at Fort Lewis
Vince, two minutes older than Richard, says he was the leader
Staying close was becoming more important to the twins, who had discovered the reality of war in their first battle.

And when Richard was called up to the front, Vince knew the horrors that could like ahead.

"We said our goodbyes and it was tough. I was very worried for him. I had seen what war was like and we were losing a lot of casualties and being overrun," he said. "When we hugged this time, it was very emotional."

Late in 1950, both twins were injured and both were treated in Japan, though they missed seeing each other by a few days.

Back in Korea, Richard returned to the front, where, after a major engagement, he was captured - although for a long time it was unclear what had happened to him.

As soon as Vince rejoined his unit in Korea that December he started trying to locate Richard.

"Finally, two guys walked over to me and told me that Richard was missing," he said.

As the days and weeks went by there was no word. Eventually Vince's parents arranged for him to be brought out in case he was their sole surviving son.

Home, alone

A generous family welcome awaited Vince, but he said: "Coming home without the other half of me wasn't the same, it wasn't right for me, I felt guilty. I didn't know if they wanted me or him."

Prisoners of war including Richard Krepps, far left
A propaganda photo showing Richard - at far left - brought hope
Some good news about Richard came ironically from a Communist propaganda picture which showed him as a prisoner. "We were all elated," Vince said. "Some people don't understand that but it's better than being dead."

But after the war ended, Richard was not among those who came home.

Vince went to see ex-prisoners of war but none could give him any solid information about his brother.

At that time Vince, now in his early 20s, was full of anger.

"When I first came home, I couldn't even eat rice. I hated the Chinese, I hated the North Koreans, I had a lot of hatred."

But like many other Korean veterans, he did his best to get on with his life. He could have counted himself a hero, having received a Silver Star for "gallantry in action".

Decades went by with no word of Richard, despite Vince's efforts.

Finally, in October 1998, Vince went back to Korea. In the South he saw what the Koreans had done with their freedom and felt proud. And in the North he stood near where his brother was captured and offered up a prayer.

"My heart wouldn't let me believe he was dead even though my mind said there's no way he could survive this long," he said

Final days

Two months after that visit, Vince got the news he wanted but dreaded.

A man called Ron Lovejoy sent a letter saying he had been held prisoner with Richard - and had been with him one morning in 1951 when he died.

Vince Krepps
Vince Krepps wants to bring his brother's remains home
"Ron talked about him, his will to come home. But Richard was so sick with malnutrition and cold that he was just overcome, and one morning when Ron Lovejoy went to talk to him, he was dead," Vince said.

The news was sad, but there was some sense of peace for Vince.

"I just had to know he had a friend and someone that tried to help him and did. That was a huge part of everything, not knowing what he went through and what he felt."

In the meantime, veterans of another war - in Vietnam - had made their voices heard, demanding attention and respect. Korea had become the "forgotten war" between World War II and Vietnam, even having to wait until 1995 for a monument in Washington DC.

Vince says he respects the Vietnam veterans and all they have done for their cause. And he understands that more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and now Iraq will take the public's attention.

He hopes that the 50th anniversary of the armistice will get Korea's veterans the attention he believes they deserve.

But Richard is not yet home. His body was tossed on a pile of corpses and his remains have never been recovered.

The fight to bring Richard home to rest continues for Vince, and he cannot forget.

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