Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Home At Last

Corporal Clem Robert Boody

Sergeant First Class W.T. Akins

Sergeant John Hershel White

Private First Class Patrick R. Glennon

Corporal Charles Arce

Corporal Dick Eugene Osborne

I’ve waited nearly six years to learn the identities of these American soldiers who fought and died in the Korean War in 1950. Their families waited nearly 60 years for them to return home and be buried with honor and dignity.

In 2007, I traveled to North Korea with a delegation led by then-Gov. Bill Richardson and then-Veterans Secretary Anthony Principi. Our primary goal during that trip was to repatriate the remains of six American soldiers who were recovered by the North Korean military in 2006. The North Koreans had agreed to turn over the remains to Governor Richardson, who has a history of diplomatic negotiations with the rogue nation.

During our meeting with a delegation from the Korean People’s Army, General Ri Chan Bok, North Korea’s Commanding General at the Demilitarized Zone, explained that the remains were excavated in the Unsan region of North Korea. He said identifying information, including Army dog tags, were found with the remains. He read the names of three of the soldiers, along with their military ID numbers. I was astonished, as I wrote the names in my notebook. After chiding American leaders, General Ri said he was turning the remains over to Governor Richardson “out of sincerity and humanitarian spirit.”

We were asked by U.S. military officials not to release the names to the public, while the Defense Department starting the complicated process of attempting to identify the remains.
Gov. Bill Richardson, Veterans Secretary Anthony Principi honor the remains of American Soldiers in North Korea

The first time we saw the remains, they were in black boxes, lined up in a parking lot in front of a North Korean building just a few hundred yards from the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, where U.S., United Nations and South Korean military leaders waited for us to cross.

Corp. Clem Robert Boody in the Independent Bulletin Journal
The first set of remains to be positively identified were those of Corp. Clem Robert Boody, of Independence, Iowa, who was 24 years old when he perished when the Chinese entered the war and overran American and South Korean troops who had pushed the North Koreans to their northern border.
Corp. Clem Boody with rifle - Truman Presidential Library

Boody was among hundreds of American soldiers killed during a brutal battle near the Chinese border. This is what that Defense Department said in a news release about the identification of Boody’s remains. The same thing was said about all six soldiers:

“In November 1950, Boody was assigned to Headquarters Company, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division then occupying a defensive position near Unsan, North Korea north of a bend in the Kuryong River known as the Camel's Head. On Nov. 1, parts of two Chinese Communist Divisions struck the 1st Cavalry Division's lines, collapsing the perimeter and forcing a withdrawal. Boody was reported missing on Nov. 2, 1950 and was one of the more than 350 servicemen unaccounted-for from the battle at Unsan.”

Boody was finally laid to rest with full military honors in his hometown of Independence on Dec. 4, 2007. I vividly remember the correspondence between his family members and our office that winter. Governor Richardson was on the campaign trail as a candidate for President. Despite the hectic campaign schedule, he was fixated on securing a Purple Heart that Boody’s family said they were promised over the decades. The Governor’s Constituent Services Director Becky Gear doggedly pursued the medal, and ultimately, Governor Richardson was able to hand-deliver it to the family. Boody’s niece, Stacey Brewer, wrote about the effort on an ancestry bulletin board back in 2007.
Sgt. First Class W. T. Akins

The remains of Sergeant FirstClass W.T. Akins, a medic from Decatur, Georgia, were identified in June 2008. Sergeant First Class Akins was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Medical Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal. He was buried with full military honors on June 26, 2008 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Sgt. John Hershel White

Sergeant John Hershel White, a 20-year-old when he was killed in battle, was identified on June 18, 2008 and buried with full military honors of his hometown of Bryant, Alabama, on July 12, 2008. Sgt. White was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Medical Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Corp. Charles Arce

Corporal Charles Arce, a 19-year-old when he died in battle, was identified in 2011. The native of Brooklyn, NY, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on July 20, 2011. Scientists used circumstantial evidence and mitochondrial DNA from Arce’s remains, which matched his brother and sister, to positively identify him. Interestingly, I ran across a 2001 article from the Daily News – five years before Arce’s remains were discovered in North Korea – about the military’s efforts to track down relatives of Arce and other missing servicemen. The Army had hired The American History Company to use genealogists to help find family members. The article reported that Arce’s parents, Pedro and Dolores, moved to Brooklyn from Puerto Rico in 1920. Charles Arce was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 21, 1930 and enlisted in the Army on Sept. 8, 1948.

Cpl. Patrick R. Glennon, of Rochester, New York, was identified on April 5, 2010, and he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on April 11, 2012. Along with Glennon’s remains, the North Koreans also returned metal identification tags bearing his name and other evidence. Still, it took some time for scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory to positively identify him. They had to rely on dental records and mitochondrial DNA, which matched Glennon’s cousins.

Corporal Dick Eugene Osborne was the last of the six soldiers to be identified. The native of Brookville, Pa., who was just 17 when he died in the Korean War, was identified last year. He was buried with full military honors on June 6, 2012 in Sigel, Pa. Scientists used circumstantial evidence, dental records and mitochondrial DNA, which matched Osborne’s living nephew. Cpl. Osborne was awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal (Korea), Republic of Korea Service Medal and Korean Presidential Unit Citation and Ribbon.

I finally learned the names of the remaining soldiers after attending an interesting briefing in Albuquerque that the Defense Department arranged for families of missing soldiers. I attended as a representative of U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, my current boss, and had no idea that briefing would lead me to the identities of those soldiers we walked across the DMZ nearly six years ago.

While I am happy for the six families who now have some closure with their loved ones finally on U.S. soil, there are still 244 American soldiers who perished in the battle at Unsan who are still unaccounted for. Overall, there are 7,925 Americans believed to have died in the Korean War who have not been accounted for.

I returned to North Korea in 2010 at a tense time when the North was threatening a renewed war with South Korea. During a meeting with North Korean military leaders, who listened to our pleas to lower the rhetoric and resist the temptation to further escalate tensions with the South, Major General Pak Rim-Su produced a photo of what he said were newly discovered American remains from the Korean War. He was trying to make the point that the remains could be lost forever if the U.S. does not return to joint search efforts with the North Koreans. I turned the photo over to the U.S. government when I returned home. Unfortunately, North Korea is still threatening the U.S., and we are no closer to bringing home more American soldiers.

1 comment:

  1. Hi again Gilbert...I guess I commented in the wrong area. I remember you too! This is Stacey, Clem Boody's Niece. Thank you for this wonderful post! I stumbled onto it quite by accident...I never knew the names of the other six soldiers that were repatriated with Clem. I also saw the photo you included from Korea with Uncle Clem in the back of the truck holding his rifle...I have a copy of this photo..likely an original run print and also a now yellowed newsprint version of how it appeared in The Independence Bulletin Journal (The Independence, Iowa local newspaper) as my Grandmother cut out...I always wondered who the other service members with Clem in the photo accidentally finding this posting you did? I was able to then go to the library site and discover the identities of those other wonderful!! I remember you, Becky, "Becker" and especially Governor Richardson very fondly...I will remember it all... as the absolute miracle it was in bringing Uncle Clem home to US soil 57 years after he died. I will remember the people involved in assisting that miracle along, Becky's kindness in shoving the slow red tape military wheels just a tad harder in obtaining my Uncle's overdue Purple Heart...I will remember all of it the rest of my life. Thank you again for this informative perspective. I enjoyed it and am grateful for the additional kernels of information it provided. Stacey Brewer