Additional Military Info:
Bobby Ray King went to war more than 60 years ago and never
His parents and immediate relatives died without knowing what happened to the 19-year-old with the gap-toothed grin, and King became a footnote in family history.
But the military didn’t forget.
“You don’t leave a fallen American behind,” according to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s website. “The families deserve an answer.”
King’s surviving family members got theirs a few weeks ago when they were notified that the Korean War veteran had been buried in an anonymous grave in Hawaii for decades.
Now, his niece, a great-niece and a handful of distant relatives await his return home, where he will be reburied at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery with full military honors.
“What the Army has done is just amazing,” said Danna Yeates, King’s great-niece.
She never met King, and her mother was only 2 when he was killed in 1950, but Yeates said tears welled up in family members’ eyes when they were presented with King’s Purple Heart medal.
“You wouldn’t think you would feel emotion for someone that you have never met,” she said. “But you do. You feel closeness and especially when they start giving you these honors.”
Sgt. Dylan Shaw, the Army casualty officer assigned to King’s family in Burleson, said the dogged pursuit to identify King’s remains after so many decades “made me feel proud.”
“To think of him being unknown after all this time, then coming home … I guess it makes you feel a little patriotic,” Shaw said.
King left Seymour, Texas, to join the Army at 17, Yeates said. “He weighed 114 pounds, and he was like 5 feet, 5 inches.”
He ended up in Korea, where he fought in an infamous battle called the Bloody Gulch Massacre, Sgt. Shaw said.
“It was actually known as a war crime at the time it happened,” Shaw said. The 90th Field Artillery Battalion was surrounded, and “they just opened fire on them.”
After the battle, the North Koreans “rounded up 75 prisoners, and they just lined them up and shot them,” Shaw said.
King’s body was found in a foxhole in South Korea’s Pongam-ni. The remains could not be identified at the time, so he was buried with full military honors as an unknown soldier, “X-216,” at Honolulu’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl.
Several years after King was listed as “missing in action,” his designation was changed to “killed in action,” Shaw said. But the location of his body remained unknown.
According to the POW/MIA command, more than 7,900 service personnel remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. The Punchbowl includes more than 2,900 unknown burials, from both the Korean War and World War II.
Last spring, improved technology, using the chest X-rays taken when King entered the service, led the command to disinter several caskets containing unidentified remains.
This time, the X-ray and dental records, including King’s missing front tooth, enabled authorities to identify his body.
Part of the information packet returned to King’s family included letters from his mother to the Army, written after he was declared missing.
“The mother sent a picture,” Shaw said. “He had his front tooth knocked out as a child … so she sent a picture of him, smiling in his uniform, to the Department of the Army.”
Yeates said reading the poignant letters from her great-grandparents pleading for information about their lost boy was like a voice from the past.
“That just tugs at your heartstrings,” said Yeates, whose son just finished a stint with the Marines. “The thought of your son not coming home — I can’t imagine what they went through.”
When King is buried at the D-FW cemetery on Dec. 7, his military family and his relatives will be there at his side.
“This is an honor to us that they would treat him with so much respect,” Yeates said. “It’s owed to Uncle Bobby.”