ALEXANDRIA, La. — A Korean War hero was laid to rest this weekend after being classified as missing in action by the Army for more than six decades.
The day, which his family said they never expected to see, was filled with tears as Sgt. James Edward Martin was buried Saturday afternoon in his hometown of Anacoco.
"We've been waiting a lifetime for something like this. ... None of us ever expected this day to come, but now that it's here, it's been very overwhelming. It has been a heart-wrenching, humbling experience," said Ronald Martin, James Martin’s nephew.
Remembered by many as an "energetic young man," James Martin left his home when he was 19 years old to serve in the Army. After his training, he was deployed to South Korea in late November 1950 with the 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.
Shortly after his arrival in Korea, Martin's unit engaged in a fierce battle with members of the Communist Chinese army at Chosin Reservoir.
By Dec. 2, nearly 1,500 U.S. soldiers were evacuated from the area. Because Martin could not be accounted for by his unit at the end of the battle, he was reported missing in action as of Dec. 3, 1950.
"We really didn't talk a whole lot about this throughout my life," Ronald Martin said. "For the longest time, his mother always felt in her heart that he was still alive. She knew he was still with us."
After his family found out that Martin was MIA, his older brother Glen joined the Army and requested Korea as his first tour of duty.
"Glen felt like if he could get over there, he would be able to find him," Ronald Martin said. "Unfortunately, he had an accident over there and was wounded and sent home. He wasn't over there for very long."
James Martin’s name never appeared on any prisoner of war lists and no repatriated Americans were able to provide any information concerning Martin as a prisoner of war. Due to the prolonged lack of evidence, the Army declared him deceased as of Dec. 31, 1953.
Decades passed before Martin's family prepared a grave site in his honor at Mitchell cemetery in Anacoco.
"We all needed closure," Ronald Martin said.
In 2001, James Martin's remains, as well as the remains of seven others, were uncovered during a Joint Recovery Operation on the eastern bank of the Chosin Reservoir. He was identified 15 years later when a DNA analysis matched two of his sisters.
Today, nearly 6,000 U.S. soldiers remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Now more than 65 years after James Martin left to serve in the military, he is back with his family, buried beside his mother and father.
Along with family members, friends and hundreds of soldiers from Fort Polk, Martin's sister Ruby was in attendance for the service.
"I wish (his mother) could've seen this," Ronald Martin said. "But his sister is happy that James is finally home. The family is reunited now."