LOS ANGELES – Sixty-three years after Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph E. Gantt went missing in action during the Korean War, his remains were returned to his 94-year-old widow in a solemn ceremony at Los Angeles International Airport before dawn Friday.
Clara Gantt wept as she stood in the cold before the flag-draped casket that was carried from a jetliner by military honor guard.
"He told me if anything happened to him he wanted me to remarry. I told him no, no. Here I am, still his wife," she told reporters.
Joseph Gantt was reported missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950, while serving with Battery C, 503rd Field Artillery, 2nd Infantry Division, according to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C.
According to the office, elements of the 2nd Infantry Division were attacked by greater numbers of Chinese forces near the town of Kunu-ri, North Korea. The division disengaged and withdrew, fighting its way through a series of Chinese roadblocks. Numerous U.S. soldiers were reported missing that day in the vicinity of Somindong, North Korea.
After a 1953 exchange of prisoners of war, returning U.S. soldiers reported that Gantt had been injured in battle, captured by Chinese forces and died in a POW camp in early 1951 from malnutrition and lack of medical care. His remains were only recently identified. Information on when they were found was not immediately available from the missing personnel office.
"Sixty-some odd years and just receiving his remains, coming home, was a blessing and I am so happy that I was living to accept him," Clara Gantt said.
Burial with full military honors is scheduled for Dec. 28 in Inglewood, Calif.
Gantt joined the Army in 1942 and served in the South Pacific during World War II. He and Clara met on a train from Texas to Los Angeles and were married in June 1948. He was then sent to Korea as a field medic.
Gantt was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor, a Purple Heart and other honors.
Nearly 7,900 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War. According to the Defense Department, modern technology allows identifications to continue to be made from remains turned over by North Korea or recovered from that nation by American teams.