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Korean War Soldier's Remains Identified after 65 Years

It's been 65 years.

Toni Murphy almost gave up hope that her uncle, Army Cpl. George P. Grifford of Grosse Pointe Farms, would ever come home.

"I wasn't looking for him, but he found me anyway," the 72-year-old New Baltimore woman said of her uncle -- a prisoner of war during the Korean War and whose remains were unaccounted for until last year. "I'm so grateful he came in my lifetime, at least someone remembers. This is a living miracle to me."

Next Monday, Murphy will get do what her mother and grandmother did not before they died -- bury Grifford's remains in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., six decades after the Chinese claimed Grifford died on Feb. 6, 1951, while being held prisoner in North Korea.

"It's been a long journey," Murphy said.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Monday that Grifford's remains were identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Grifford, 18, enlisted Oct. 20, 1949. He was a member of the 37th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. On Nov. 30, 1950, his unit was attacked by enemy forces near Kunu-ri, North Korea. He was reported missing in action after the battle, according to the accounting agency.

In 1953, the Chinese reported Grifford died two years earlier while being held prisoner in North Korea. A military review board amended his status to deceased.

The accounting agency said that in 1954, United Nations and communist forces exchanged the remains of war dead in Operation Glory.

All of the recovered remains were turned over to the Army's Central Identification Unit for analysis. The remains unable to be identified were buried as unknown soldiers at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, known as the Punchbowl.

Grifford was X-14029.

In 1999, because of advances in technology, the Department of Defense began to re-examine records. It determined the possibility of identifying of some of the unknown soldiers now existed, according to the accounting agency.

Grifford's remains were exhumed Feb. 25, 2015, for analysis. Accounting agency scientists used circumstantial evidence, dental analysis and chest radiographs to match his records.

Grifford is one of 17 missing Michiganders who ended up being accounted for from the Korean War. There are 347 others who still are missing, according to the accounting agency's website.

They are among the more than 7,800 Americans unaccounted for from the Korean War and nearly 83,000 unknowns from all wars, said Air Force Lt. Col. Holly Slaughter, who is in public affairs with the accounting agency. She said many of the unknowns are "deep water losses" from aircraft crashes and may never be found.

Slaughter said the effort to identify the unknowns "is important to fulfill our nation's promise" and possibly bring a sense of closure for families or at least an opportunity for closure.

"My heart aches for those who haven't got (their loved ones) back," Murphy said. "Help the armed forces bring bodies back to the people who love them before there are people who can't remember them."

Luckily for Murphy, she remembers her uncle. She remembers quite a few details about the man who she said was affected by the Holocaust and "wanted everyone to have the freedoms" he had.

Murphy said her most prominent memory is helping her grandmother pack care packages for her uncle, including four or five cartons of Pall Mall cigarettes. She said her first contact with Spam was a can he sent home to his family. He also sent them bread in a can.

"It was delicious to us," she recalled of the items.

Murphy said Grifford came home twice, once during the summertime when she, her two brothers and mother went with him on a canoe trip toward Belle Isle. She said that he asked her to move so the canoe wouldn't capsize and she recalled him telling her "you needn't be scared because I'm here."

Murphy said she also remembered her uncle coming home during cold weather. She said she had to keep a potbelly stove going and her uncle came in and woke her up as she slept on the couch. He made a pot of coffee -- and in a special moment -- talked with her for about 15 minutes before the rest of the family awoke.

"After that," she said, "he never returned."

Murphy said Grifford sent home letters, including one she helped her grandmother decipher that talked about soldiers being cold and dying. Eventually, telegrams came indicating Grifford was missing in action, then a prisoner of war, she said.

She said his dog tags were found, but not his body. Murphy said her mother and grandmother constantly pestered the Army and others to return something of his, every day anxious of his return.

Murphy said the process to identify him was slow, but she "can't begin to thank all the people involved who brought him back."

"I feel it's a miracle to get him back," she said.

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