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COLUMBUS, Ind. — Remains found on the site of an early Korean War battlefield are those of an Indiana man who was listed as missing in action since 1950.
A team of specialists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command found the bones of Army Cpl. Virgil Phillips near North Korea's border with China in May 2005, but they were not positively identified until January. The identification was confirmed by comparing DNA from the remains and a sample provided by a relative of Phillips from Vincennes.
Chad Phillips, the only surviving direct descendant of Virgil Phillips, said that his grandfather would be buried in a family plot in Loogootee later this year. Virgil Phillips was born in 1925 in that small southern Indiana city, and his family moved to Columbus in the late 1930s, but eventually moved back. He enlisted in the Army in 1944 and served two tours of duty.
"The Army offered us the chance to have him buried in Arlington [National Cemetery] but we want him to come home and be placed alongside his son," Chad Phillips told The Republic for a Friday story.
That son, Jerry Phillips, died in 1997. He never saw his father, who was among more than 8,100 American service personnel listed as missing in action from Korea. He was under the category of Remains Unrecoverable.
He and hundreds of other American soldiers were part of a force that had advanced just short of the Chinese border in 1950.
On Nov. 2, one of the pivotal moments of the war, more than a million Chinese soldiers had shocked Allied commanders by pouring over the border into North Korea and launching a full-scale assault that overran the undermanned Americans, including Phillips' unit.
The attack was so unexpected and far-reaching that Allied forces could not go back to retrieve bodies. The area under North Korean control would remain off-limits to inspections until 1996.
From 1996 to 2005, teams recovered more than 220 remains. Now access has been banned.
"The remains of Phillips were the last to be recovered before the North Koreans shut off access to our investigators," said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Elzy, of the Army's casualty assistance office for Indiana.
The DNA collected from Delbert Rapp, a maternal cousin of the soldier, was made possible through the research of Cathy Bryant of Columbus, the daughter of the late Joseph Phillips, Virgil's brother. She found Rapp and gave his name to military authorities.
Although the remains were discovered in 2005, they were kept at a facility in Hawaii for more than two years until the identity could be confirmed.