BURLESON (CBSDFW.COM) – The body of an Army soldier from Burleson arrived at DFW International Airport on Wednesday morning for a full military service today. Bobby Ray King left Texas for the war when he was just 17 years old.
That was the Korean War and the year was 1948. How he finally made his way home on Wednesday is a story about a mother’s letter, a photograph and advancements in forensic science.
King died at the scene of an infamous crime when was just 19 years old, a Sargent in the Artillery In 1950, his battalion was overrun in the Battle of Pongam-ni. The North Korean army did not take prisoners, they killed anyone who surrendered. The atrocity has a name — Bloody Gulch Massacre — and it is categorized as a war crime. The event ignited n furor around the world.
United Nations troops did not retake the gulch until five weeks later, it was only then U.S. troops had a chance to claim the bodies left on the battlefield. King’s body was found in a foxhole at the scene, one of seven soldiers from the atrocity that could not be identified. His remains spent the next 60 years at a military grave site in Hawaii called the Punchbowl, along with over 2,500 hundred unknowns from the Korean and Second World War. He was identified only as X216.
King’s parents passed on, never knowing their son’s fate. When his coffin arrived, the Army also turned over his file in his next of kin, a niece. In it were letters from King’s parents. They had written to the Army many times after their son was declared missing, begging for information on what happened. His mother made sure to mention King’s missing front tooth, an accident that happened when he was 10 years old. You can see it plainly in King’s photograph.
It was that information that lead Army officials to X216, the missing tooth was cataloged in the file. Also in his file his chest X-ray taken when he was seventeen. Sgt. Dylan Shaw is the Army casualty officer who was in charge of King’s recovery and transport. “Soldiers had to have chest x-rays done when they enlisted,” he said. “We are able to compare these now.” A new generation of 3D x-ray technology just made available a few years ago took an image of his remains and the two x-rays were compared to each other.
What King had lost as a ten year old boy was now how he was found.
King had a brother who had a daughter — Judy Austin of Burleson who is listed as King’s next of kin. She and her daughter, Danna Yeates, also of Burleson, were at DFW Airport on Wednesday morning to take possession of the body. Yeates has a son in the Marines. She found the day especially poignant. “With my son being a Marine, it makes you wonder,” she said, with a pause to gather herself, “what the mothers whose son’s aren’t coming home, what my great-grandmother felt when her son didn’t come home.”
King’s niece, whose mother was 2 years old when he left for the Army, said it best. “He’s so proud to be home,” Austin said, fighting back tears, “and we are so proud to have him home.”
The Army staged a formal procession at the airport to unload his flag-draped coffin. He was giving a full military funeral on Friday. After 60 years they returned to him his name and brought him back to Texas.
It should be mentioned that recreating a crime scene from 62 years ago cannot be done. However, the Army will label, photograph and chart every bone that is recovered from a soldier fallen in combat. Officials came to a general conclusion. King was shot four times, all in the “hip area” — I’ll let you interpret what that means. It is horrific to imagine how he spent the last hour of his life, bleeding out in a mud hole on the other side of the world.
But the sky over Korea looks just like the sky over Burleson, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. It is all blue. I would like to think that, in his final hours, King looked up and imagined himself, wished himself, back home in Texas. Now, 62 years later, that wish has finally been granted.
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