Over half a century after his death, Pfc. James M. Smith, a missing Korean War serviceman, was finally laid to rest with full military honors in the presence of family and military personnel Wednesday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
In February 1951, then 19-year-old Smith of Abbeville, Georgia, was assisting the South Korean Army in attacks against the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces when things took a turn for the worse, according to a press release provided by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
Early in the mission, South Korean forces left American units to fend for themselves after a Chinese counterattack, and soon after, Smith was pronounced missing in action.
For two months in 1953, the U.S Army Quartermaster Graves Registration Companies searched the battlefield, but Smith’s remains were nowhere to be found, according to the release.
Two years later, the military review board amended Smith’s status from MIA to deceased after unsuccessful efforts to gather any information about Smith or his whereabouts.
Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea sent more than 200 containers of “commingled human remains” to the United States. Additionally, the communist country also sent documents that suggested some of the remains may have come from the battlefield where Smith’s unit fought, the release stated.
“To identify Smith’s remains, scientists from [the] DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence; two types of DNA analysis, including mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched a brother and a cousin, and Y-chromosome Short Tandem Repeat DNA analysis, which matched a brother; and dental analysis, which matched Smith’s records,” according to the release.
While this may seem like a long time to identify someone, the DPAA reports that there are still 7,823 Americans who fought in the Korean War that remain unidentified or unaccounted for. However, with the help of modern technology, more identifications are being made, allowing family members of those who remain missing to stay hopeful.
Smith was assigned to Company K, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. His niece, Geneva Smith, received his burial flag graveside.