Baltimore County veteran who searched 65 years for twin brother missing in Korean war has died

"His brother was left over there, but part of Vince was too." A veteran dies having never found his brother.

In his last months, after the shingles he beat and the cancer he couldn't, Vincent Krepps was still searching.

The Baltimore County man had flown to China, climbed hills in Korea and attended veterans meetings across the country in his decades-long search for his twin brother.

On Saturday, his time ran out.

Krepps died Saturday morning of complications from cancer. He was 85.

He never found the remains of his twin, Richard, taken prisoner in the Korean War and missing since 1950.

"That was his whole mission in life," said Angie Kaufman of Cockeysville, his niece. "His brother was left over there, but part of Vince was, too."

Krepps searched for 65 years and nine months — ever since he returned from Korea without Cpl. Richard "Dickie" Krepps, his two-minutes-younger brother.

The surviving brother became an advocate for families of missing veterans. His years of research, enough to fill 13 binders in his Parkville home, was a resource for others searching for their own loved ones.

Butch Maisel, a history teacher at Boys' Latin School, said Krepps helped him learn how and where his brother was killed.

"Vince was the one who helped me solve that mystery," he said. "So I was always grateful to him."

Maisel had not yet been born when his older brother vanished in Korea. Krepps, who edited the Korean War veterans magazine The Graybeards in the 1990s, shared news of Maisel's search. They reached a soldier who had served with Maisel's brother.

"Vince helped me unravel the whole thing," Maisel said. "He was shot in the chest and died instantly.

"To actually be able to find someone who stood there with him was gut-wrenching."

Some 7,800 Americans remain missing from the Korean War — more than from the Vietnam War.

About 90 military researchers are working at labs in Hawaii, Nebraska and Ohio to identify the bones of Americans returned from overseas. Their methods have improved since the Korean War. Families across the country have submitted DNA to a database for matching. Krepps did, too.

The military identified the remains of 73 Americans missing in foreign wars last year. Thirty-five were from the Korean War.

That's up from 69 the year before, and 60 the year before that.

Still, the numbers have fallen short of expectations. Congress has ordered 200 identifications a year, but the target has proved elusive. For many aging relatives, time is now running out.

"At the current rate, most of the wives and even children of these men will pass on before the remains of their missing family members are identified," said Mark Sauter, an investigative historian in Bethesda.

Jennifer Love of California grew up wondering over the fate of a great-uncle she never knew.

"I just knew he died in Korea," she said. "I never knew what happened."

Her search online led her to Vincent Krepps. Together, they discovered that her great-uncle served in the same artillery battery as the Krepps brothers.

They also learned that her great uncle was in the same prison camp as Richard.

The Krepps twins, from Essex, enlisted in the Army together in 1949, and went to war the following year. Richard Krepps went missing Dec. 1, 1950, after the Chinese poured across the Yalu River into North Korea and overwhelmed U.S. troops.

Vincent had been hospitalized after a truck crash. He returned to the brothers' artillery battery to learn Richard had disappeared.

Vincent Krepps returned to Essex in spring of 1951 and his search began.

His story spread through the network of veterans. Eventually, in December 1998, he heard from Ronald Lovejoy of Nevada. Lovejoy said he was with Richard in the prison camp. Lovejoy said Richard starved to death, his body stacked with others.

Vincent Krepps would continue to search for his brother's remains.

He died at home in the Oak Crest retirement community in Parkville. His wife of 53 years, Susan, died last year; they had no children.

He spoke of his search four months ago in an address at the Memorial Day service at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

Vincent Krepps had bought a cemetery plot and commissioned a grave marker for his brother at Dulaney Valley.

Vincent's niece and nephew promised to watch for Richard's remains. The relatives of veterans he helped identify expressed support.

"I told Vince that if Richard's remains are ever recovered, I would like to be there," Love said. "He helped a complete stranger, no questions asked. I would do anything for him."

Maisel said, "I would be there in a heartbeat."

The search will go on.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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