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Agonizing Wait Drags On for Families of Missing U.S. Soldiers

Amid all the jubilation over the rescue of seven American POWs in Iraq, Paul Patchem couldn't stop wondering about his 22-year-old stepson.

Marine Cpl. Kemaphoom Chanawongse remained one of the handful of U.S. servicemen missing in action. The Pentagon says four of its troops are missing, but only two have been publicly identified: Chanawongse of Waterford and Army Sgt. Edward Anguiano of Brownsville, Texas.

Since Sunday, five of the six Marines from Chanawongse's unit missing since a March 23 firefight near Nasiriyah have been reclassified as killed in action. Only the talkative, prankish Chanawongse -- his fellow Marines call him "Chuckles" -- remains unaccounted for.

"We understand the chances are smaller than they were," Patchem said Monday, "but we still have hope."

The POWs were rescued Sunday by Marines who kicked in the door of a house south of Tikrit and shouted: "If you're an American, stand up!" Their families, scattered across the country, wept and cheered at the news.

"Yesterday morning was good," said Chanawongse's mother, Tan. "We are happy for them. But we know that's not our boy. So it looks like the next day is going to be our good day. Then today the rest of his group has been identified and we know our chance is low.

"But we can't stay in that mood," she said. "It is not final yet. Nothing is final yet."

The Army was Edward John Anguiano's ticket to see the world, his 19-year-old sister Jennifer Anguiano said. Anguiano was a bit of a loner in high school, but leaving the small town of Los Fresnos, outside of the south Texas city of Brownsville, brought out the best in him.

After joining the Army and earning the rank of sergeant, Anguiano decided he wanted to live in the Rio Grande Valley and improve his family's lot.

"It's always been about my mom," Jennifer Anguiano said. Their mother, San Juanita Anguiano, is single and it's been tough at times to make ends meet.

The family last saw Sgt. Anguiano in December. Since then, only letters.

"They were really good letters about plans for us," said his sister. "It's been pretty much a hard-knock life. Everybody wants nice things, and my brother and I want that for my mom."

For many years, the family has lived in a two-bedroom, one bathroom duplex. It's now Jennifer, her mother and 16-year-old sister, Becky. Before joining the Army two years ago, Anguiano lived there, too.

In the meantime, the family waits. At first, they constantly watched TV for any news about Anguiano's fate.

"I canceled everything for two weeks," Jennifer Anguiano said. "My sister was doing the same thing until my mom told us to go out and live our regular lives. It still hurts, you know. It's just better for me not to see it."

News of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch's rescue and the release of the POWs Sunday bolstered the family's hopes, but only a little.

"Somebody stopped by today from the Army and told us there is no news, but to keep having faith," Jennifer Anguiano said.

"Every now and then, I'll hear a song on the radio that reminds me of him. I normally listen to happy music, but I can't. It gets on my nerves."

"The hope comes and goes," she said. "I'm just not feeling a lot of hope right now. Hope seems too remote right now."

In Waterford, the Patchems sat on their sun porch beneath a pair of red, white and blue banners signed by friends and neighbors. Their son came to the United States from Thailand at age 9, played youth soccer and planned from a young age to join the military. His grandfather is a veteran of the Thai air force.

Paul Patchem hoped the young man might be hiding with a friendly family somewhere in Nasiriyah; his wife prefers not to imagine where he might be or what he might be doing.

Pride helps them hold up under the stress, they said.

"He went there to do his duty," Tan Patchem said. "I don't know where he is. Wherever he is, he's still doing his job."