Korean War vet's family welcomes remains after 65 years

The remains of Army Cpl. Robert Graham, who died in a POW camp, are finally coming home. 

Connor Radnovich/San Francisco Chronicle via AP/File
Servicemen carry a flag-covered casket containing the remains of Army Cpl. Robert Graham at the San Francisco International Airport on April 6, 2016. The remains of the Korean War soldier were flown back to the Bay Area more than six decades after he went missing in South Korea.

One soldier from the Korean War is finally coming home, six decades late.

"Things are finally coming to closure for the family ... after 65 years," James George, the nephew of Army Cpl. Robert Graham, told The San Francisco Chronicle.

Mr. George, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant, escorted his uncle's remains on a flight from Hawaii to San Francisco Wednesday evening, after a Defense Department lab finally identified Corporal Graham's remains. The young soldier disappeared in 1951 during the Korean War when Chinese forces attacked his battalion. 

Returning prisoners of war reported that he had died of malnutrition in the Suan camp in May that year when he was 20 years old. 

Yet Graham's name was not on any official lists of American POWs, and the remains were not among those handed to the United States after the 1953 armistice. 

In 1993, North Korea released 208 boxes of bones to the US military, described as remains from the Suan camp's holding area. Mr. George and two other relatives contributed DNA a decade ago in hopes of identifying his uncle's remains, but it wasn't until recently that a Defense Department lab in Hawaii managed to verify Graham's identity using a tibia bone. The lab, which tries to account for POWs and others missing in action, was reorganized in January 2015 amid criticism for its slow progress. 

That program, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), estimates that more than 83,000 Americans remain missing from all of America's conflicts dating from World War II to the present, with the majority coming from WWII. More than 41,000 are presumed lost at sea, according to the DPAA. 

Thanks to DNA testing, repatriating veterans' remains is becoming more common. In March, a Missoula, Mont., vet who disappeared in Laos at the height of the Vietnam War, was finally identified after a long search. DPAA's forensic anthropologists used DNA to correctly identify a shard of leg bone, much like Graham's case, according to The Missoulian. 

Not every family that had a veteran taken as a prisoner of war or missing in action has been as fortunate. But the DPAA was spared from Defense Department spending cuts this year, as The Seattle Times reported, which may provide a boon to those families that are still hunting for their loved ones.

This report includes material from the Associated Press. 

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