ELMIRA, N.Y. – Nine New York Army National Guard members ensured that a Korean War Soldier who went unidentified for 70 years was laid to rest with full military honors May 27.
An Army National Guard Honor Guard provided funeral honors and firing party as Cpl. Robert Agard of Buffalo was interred at the family plot in Elmira’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
“It was a tremendous honor to provide military honors for Corporal Agard,” said Sgt. Jedidiah “J” Estrada.
The Honor Guard also supported the return of the remains to New York May 24 at the Frederick Douglas Greater Rochester International Airport.
Bringing home and honoring those missing in action holds special meaning for the team, said Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Thomas, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the return of remains.
“I’ve been on many of these over the years, and it is just awesome to be part of it,” he said. “My father and grandfather were Vietnam and WWII veterans, so every time I can be part of bringing home those members to their families, it just holds so much extra meaning.”
Agard was killed July 19, 1950, near Taejon, South Korea, during one of the first battles of the Korean War.
Assigned as a scout with the 24th Reconnaissance Company, 24th Infantry Division, Agard’s unit was trying to delay the advance of North Korean forces invading South Korea.
The delaying action was fought at Taejon so the 24th Infantry Division, exhausted after more than two weeks of continuous combat against the Korean People’s Army, could withdraw.
Agard arrived in Korea with the division July 3, according to Army records.
The entire 24th Division made a stand at Taejon against numerically and technically superior North Korean forces July 14-21 before they were forced to withdraw.
Agard, a private first class at the time of his death, volunteered for a patrol to investigate enemy presence along the road south of Taejon July 19 to prepare for the division breakout.
While scouting forward of American lines, Agard and his 11-man patrol came under fire. Four were wounded and the rest were never seen again.
Agard was killed the night before his division withdrew from Taejon, a tactical defeat but strategic success in providing time for U.S. forces to establish a defensive perimeter around the port of Pusan, Korea.
Almost 1,000 members of the 24th Infantry Division were killed, nearly 230 were wounded and another 2,400 were missing at Taejon.
“I looked at the obituary and he was 19 years old,” said Father Robert Adkins from the Emmanuel Church in Elmira during the service.
“What could he have been in his 80s? At his young age in the military, in a tragic situation, Robert did his duty. He showed up,” he said.
Army Graves Registration Service recovered five sets of remains in December 1950 and buried them in the U.N. Military Cemetery in Taejon. Four of the five were identified as members of the 24th Reconnaissance Company patrol lost in July 1950.
Agard’s parents, living in the Finger Lakes community of Penn Yan, were notified of his status as missing in action and presumed dead.
The fifth set of remains, lacking identification, were sent to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at the Punchbowl Crater in Honolulu for interment as a Korean War Unknown.
The Army declared Agard deceased in 1953. His remains were declared unrecoverable in 1956.
Department of Defense officials believed Agard’s remains were those of that fifth Soldier who could not be identified with 1950s technology.
The unidentified remains were exhumed from the Punchbowl cemetery in June 2019 and subjected to DNA testing.
Identification was confirmed through dental and DNA examination conducted by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, part of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
His remains were positively accounted for Sept. 29, 2020, and Agard’s closest living relative, Gloyd Kimball in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, was notified.
“To see all these folks here, the servicemen, veterans, all get together with family and dear friends, it could not have been better,” Kimball said. “It could not have been better. We live in an amazing, wonderful country.”
Robert Agard was born Nov. 29, 1930, and enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1948. Following training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division as part of the occupation forces in Japan.
Agard’s name was previously recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are still missing from the Korean War. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
“I take my position of honoring these fallen Soldiers so very seriously,” Thomas said. “They were yesterday’s generation, and our role with the Honor Guard represents today’s generation showing our respect.”
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lists 7,544 missing in action still unrecovered or unidentified from the Korean War as of April 1. Since 1982, 612 remains have been identified and accounted for.