Funerals for Korean War Missing Highlight Long Wait Facing Families

A carry team from the Army's 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or The Old Guard, conduct the graveside services for Korean War soldier U.S. Army Sgt. Wilson Meckley, Jr., at Arlington National Cemetery April 4, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A carry team from the Army's 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or The Old Guard, conduct the graveside services for Korean War soldier U.S. Army Sgt. Wilson Meckley, Jr., at Arlington National Cemetery April 4, 2016 in Arlington, Virginia. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The upcoming funerals this week of two soldiers who had been listed as missing from the Korean War illustrate the difficulty forensic specialists will have in establishing identities for the 55 cases of remains brought to Hawaii last week.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) said the funeral for Army Sgt. William A. Larkins of Pennsylvania will be held in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, on Friday.

Larkins' remains were among those recovered in a joint field activity in North Korea in 2005. He was finally identified on May 4, 2017, 12 years after the remains were brought back, the DPAA said. Larkins was 20 years old when he went missing in December 1950.

On Saturday, a funeral will be held for Army Cpl. Terrell J. Fuller of Georgia in his hometown of Toccoa. Fuller's remains were among 208 boxes of commingled human remains turned over by North Korea from 1990 to 1994.

He was finally identified this April. Fuller was 20 years old when he went missing in February 1951, the DPAA said.

Following the return to Hawaii last week of the 55 transfer cases handed over by North Korea, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, director of the DPAA, cautioned it was only the first step in a painstaking process of identification.

He and Dr. John Byrd, the DPAA's director of labs, said there is a possibility some remains could be identified fairly quickly, but most will probably take years.

Among the remains were boots, scraps of clothing, canteens and other equipment associated with the U.S. military -- and one dog tag.

On Wednesday, DPAA officials will present the dog tag to the family of its still missing owner; on Thursday, it will provide an update on the progress of the repatriations to families of the missing.

Larkins was a member of A Battery, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was fighting off Chinese counter-attacks in November 1950 in the Ch'ongch'on River area of what is now North Korea.

On Dec. 1, 1950, the 503rd Field Artillery Battalion began moving under enemy mortar, machine gun and small-arms fire toward the village of Sunchon, where Larkins was reported missing.

Following the armistice that ended the war in 1953, a returning U.S. prisoner of war reported that Larkins had been captured and died at an unknown POW camp in 1951, the DPAA said. Based on that information, the Army declared him dead as of Jan. 31, 1951.

Fuller was a member of Company D, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, which was engaged in early 1951 against units of the Chinese People's Volunteer Forces (CPVF) in an area known as the Central Corridor in South Korea.

During a withdrawal to the town of Wonju, South Korea, Fuller was reported missing on Feb. 12, 1951. His name later appeared on a list provided by the CPVF and the Korean People's Army of U.S. service members who died while in their custody.

Following the armistice, a fellow soldier from Fuller's company reported that he had been held prisoner with Fuller but did not know his status. The Army declared Fuller dead as of Feb. 18, 1954.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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