SCHUYLERVILLE, N.Y. – Sixty-eight years to the day after he was listed as missing in action in Korea, New York Army National Guard Soldiers rendered funeral honors for Pfc. John Martin on Sunday as he was laid to rest at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Schuylerville, New York.
Martin, 23 when he was killed, was buried next to his parents with military honors.
Martin was a WWII Marine Corps veteran, and a Soldier in the New York Army National Guard before he was killed while fighting with the 7th Infantry Division around Chosin Reservoir in December 1950.
Heavily outnumbered, Soldiers of the 7th Division and the Marines of the 1st Marine Division were attacked by thousands of Chinese soldiers. The fighting was confused and deadly as the Americans fought their way to the Korean coast. The toll: 4,894 Soldiers and Marines were listed as missing in action during and after the fighting.
Martin was declared missing in Korea on Dec. 2, 1950.
Martin was among several hundred Soldiers hastily buried during the battle, but never identified. After the end of hostilities, those remains were inaccessible to Army investigators.
Throughout those 68 years, however, Martin's family kept his memory alive and his parents placed a headstone in the family cemetery plot.
Members of the New York Army National Guard's Honor Guard were joined by Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general for New York, along with local Soldiers and leaders for the military honors for Martin's final return home.
"The service was unique in its own way," said New York Army National Guard Spc. Emanuel Negron an Honor Guard member. "The family can finally have closure. I have been a part of many modified full honors and by far this one hit home."
The seven Soldiers in the detail provided modified full military honors for the burial of Pfc. Martin, with pall bearers in the cemetery, a bugler sounding Taps and a firing detail.
Bringing home a Korean War Soldier made the experience unforgettable, said 2nd Lt. Lasheri Mayes, Honor Guard officer in charge.
"Receiving Pfc. Martin during the honorable transfer of remains made this service unique for me, since this is such a rare occurrence," Mayes said.
Shields presented the folded flag from Martin's coffin to the family.
"There's something about being out on the field and seeing the family get true closure," Negron said. "There is no better feeling in the world than this."
Martin enlisted in the Army in April 1950, and deployed to Korea as a medic with the 7th Infantry Division's 32nd Infantry Regiment.
Soldiers from the modern-day 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, part of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) at Fort Drum, New York, met with the family to present them with Martin's Purple Heart.
"He was wounded trying to help other wounded Soldiers and he died there," said Tamaris Dolton, John Martin's niece. "It is a complete and total relief to know that he did do good; he didn't die in vain."
"It really is an honor and a privilege to be part of this homecoming," said 1st Lt. John O'Donnell, the regimental representative who presented the Purple Heart. "Our actions here for the Martin family help connect Soldiers of today with their history, with Soldiers of our past."
Martin's name did not appear on any prisoner of war lists, and no returning prisoners of war reported that he had been captured. Based on this information, he was declared deceased as of Dec. 31, 1951. In 1956, his remains were declared non-recoverable.
"Grandma never stopped talking about him," Dolton said. "She died in 1973, and until then, she just waited."
In September 2001, during the military's 25th Joint Recovery Operation, a burial site located at the Chosin Reservoir, in the vicinity where Martin fought, was excavated.
His remains were recovered and brought to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) laboratory for identification.
To identify Martin's remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used DNA analysis, anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
Key to identification of Martin's remains was a DNA sample provided by one of Martin's brothers, who died in 2012 without ever knowing that his contribution helped confirm the identity of his lost brother.
His remains were confirmed on Sept. 24, 2018.
With the passing of time, Martin's parents, two sisters, three brothers and two nephews have already passed away. Surviving family now includes five nieces and five nephews; as well as 20 grandnieces and grandnephews, including the latest Martin family member to serve in uniform: his great-grandnephew, Airman Schuyler Dolton.
Dolton served as the casualty escort, bringing his great-granduncle home to family and friends.
"It's like a dream come true for all of us," Dolton said. "I will never forget this as long as I shall live."
Martin's name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing in Honolulu, along with the others who are missing from the Korean War. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Today, 7,675 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.
"This is good because it lets everybody see that we don't just leave our Soldiers over there," Tamaris Dolton said. "They do bring them home."
"I still cannot believe what an honor it is to be a part of the honor guard," Negron said. "It is services like these that remind me why I serve and why I stand for the flag. It is always an honor to serve those who served," he said.