Forgotten War Vet Remembered In Eternity

4 Oct 2007 | Gunnery Sgt. Will Price

Marine Pfc. Carl A. West served his country heroically in the Korean War (1950-1953), a clash often called the "Forgotten War." Overshadowed by Vietnam and never officially declared a war by Congress, the Korean conflict, nevertheless, took the lives of 54,246 Americans.

At age 23, West was among those who fell in Korea, but when the conflict ended in 1953, his body remained unaccounted for. The Marine was labeled"Missing In Action," and as the years passed, hopes of finding West's remains grew dimmer and dimmer -- but it's always darkest before the dawn.

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced recently that the Marine's remains had finally been found and identified, and were returned to his family for interment with full military honors. Pfc. Carl A. West of Amanda Park, Washington, was at last put to rest, Oct. 4, in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

West's family made the cross-country journey from their home in Alaska to see their Marine put to rest. In attendance were Carl's niece, Valerie Bale, and her husband, Chuck, and Herbert Worthley, Carl's brother-in-law.

"We truly appreciate what our country has done to bring Uncle Carl home,"said Valerie. "Everyone back home from our church, our co-workers, friends and family are all amazed, that after all this time, our military -- our Marines -- never gave up."

Col. W. Blake Crowe, the commanding officer of Marine Barracks, had presided over many funerals at Arlington, but this one would be near and dear to his heart. As a Marine and former commanding officer of 7th Marine Regiment, Crowe accepted the honor of leading the funeral with great pride.

"It was a great honor and distinct privilege to represent the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Marines of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment currently deployed to the city of Hit, Al Anbar Provence, Iraq today. The Marines of 7th Marine Regiment stand in awe of the Marines who served at the Chosin Reservoir,"said Crowe. "7th Marine Regiment is in my blood. I was grateful I could help honor one of our own, to return him with loving respect to his family and to lay him to rest amongst his comrades in arms. We have fulfilled the pledge we make to every Marine and Sailor... to never forget. PFC West is now home!"

West was one of the legendary"Frozen Chosin" -- Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, deployed near the Chosin Reservoir in bitterly cold North Korea. In November 1950, an offensive expected to unify Korea was countered with a successful counter-offensive by three Communist Chinese divisions attacking U.S. Marine positions and decimating the U.S. 2nd Division.

Surrounded by 120,000 Chinese soldiers, chilled by the coldest Korean winter in 100 years, the situation seemed hopeless. One of the men involved in the operation was asked,"What would you like for Christmas?" His desperate reply: "Give me tomorrow."

U.S. forces staged a fighting withdrawal to the south, first to Hagaru-ri, then to Koto-ri. Retreat? One American general famously characterized the action as,"Attacking in a different direction."

The situation worsened as the Chinese launched a devastating attack on the First Marine Division and a nearby U.S. Army task force. The Marine response to this attack ranks as one of history's greatest feats of arms, for despite numbing cold and seemingly insurmountable odds, they virtually wiped out the opposing Chinese divisions, which suffered so many casualties they were out of action for months. Pfc. Carl A. West was killed in battle on December 8, 1950, as a result of enemy action near Koto-ri.

West was buried by his fellow Marines in a temporary U.N. military cemetery in Hungnam, which fell to the North Koreans in December 1950. West's body was to be returned to America as a part of 1954's"Operation Glory," where the North Korean government repatriated the remains of 2,944 U.S. soldiers and Marines -- but the staff at the U.S. Army mortuary in Kokura, Japan, noticed apparent discrepancies between West's supposed remains and his official records.

West's dental and physical characteristics did not match his file information, they decided. The remains were subsequently labeled"unknown," and buried along with 416 other "unknowns" in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in Hawaii. West was re-classified as missing, and remained so for more than half a century.

Then, in May 2006, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command exhumed the remains for modern DNA testing. Although they did not yield usable DNA data, a reevaluation of the skeletal and dental structure led to a tentative identification that they were, in fact, the remains of Pfc. Carl A. West. This was later confirmed by the FBI, using fingerprints taken at the time of West's burial.

"Colonel Crowe, his wife, Lynne, and all the Marines were so genuine! I am speechless by the sense of family the Marines have made us feel,"added Valerie. "My uncle was gone for 57 years, but he got the same respect, as if he had passed yesterday."

And so, nearly 60 years after falling in battle for the sake of his country, Pfc. Carl A. West, Marine, is finally home -- and has at last receive a long-overdue compliment of honors reserved only for those who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country.

Though he passed away in a"Forgotten War," Carl West was a proud member of the immortal Marine Corps, and West's service and sacrifice shall NEVER be forgotten. Instead, they shall be, as Shakespeare once wrote, "from this day to the ending of the world... REMEMBERED."