On a cold November night in 1950, the town marshal knocked on the side door of Mary K. Mitchell's family home in Cloverport, Ky. The telegram in his hand carried a devastating message: U.S. Army Cpl. Charles Patterson "Pat" Whitler, Mitchell's 22-year-old brother, was missing in action in the Korean War.

Mitchell, 66, a hair salon receptionist, was 6 years old when her parents got the news. Mitchell's father suffered a fatal heart attack that same night, leaving her mother to raise nine children, six of them under the age of 16.

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