- Filed Under
LEESVILLE, LA. — Sixty-three years is a long time to wait — but not too long, say family members who welcomed the remains of their uncle to Leesville on Thursday.
“Nobody’s to give up,” said Eleanor Tucker Grubbs, the niece of Private 1st Class Jerry Pat Craig whose remains were buried at Central Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Leesville. “Sixty-three years later, we’re proof of that.”
Grubbs’ cousin, Anita Fields-Gold, was notified in November by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) that the body of an American soldier killed in Korea had been identified as their uncle.
Craig had served less than nine months when he was killed in action on Dec. 2, 1950, at the Chosin Reservoir. He had been serving with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Division of the U.S. Army, and later was reported as missing in action.
Craig’s remains were among 25 bodies exchanged by the Chinese and North Koreans in 1953, and he was declared dead and unidentified. The bodies were buried in the national memorial cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1956.
Originally, it was thought that his body could be one of 15 possible soldiers declared MIA, but eight were ruled out through chest X-rays and dental records taken when Craig joined the Army at 17. Further examination of those documents by a forensic anthropologist confirmed that some of the remains were Craig’s.
“I am convinced this is my uncle,” Fields-Gold said. “And I’m very comfortable putting him in a military cemetery. He deserved to spend eternity with his comrades.”
For Grubbs, it was a moment for closure, as well as joy.
“It’s a joy to know that God allowed him to come home,” she said.
Craig’s hometown was Panhandle, Texas, but the city of Leesville adopted him as one of its own and welcomed him Thursday with a procession through downtown. Many lined the street, waving American flags and saluting.
“(This) is for a man who gave his life so many years ago,” Leesville resident Shirley Kyle said. “I’m so proud that our town wants to come out and support it.”
Fellow resident Tabitha Mayo waved on the procession to honor Craig. She also attended to honor her father and grandfathers who served in the military.
“If this was my father or my grandfather and it was just me, I would want someone to be here to support him,” she said.
The procession led to a funeral with full military honors at Central Louisiana Veterans Cemetery on what would have been Craig’s 81st birthday.
Fields-Gold called the event “a joyous homecoming” that finally returned “the broken link of our family chain.”
She thanked the military and JPAC, an organization with the mission to identify those still missing from past conflicts through global search, recovery and laboratory operations. But she reminded attendants that JPAC has a daunting job with more than 7,000 Americans still unaccounted for from the Korean War alone.