Remains of Korean War POW heading home after 62 years

By JOE SIMNACHER | The Dallas Morning News | Published: February 1, 2013

Army Pfc. Weldon Alonzo Davis is scheduled to come home to North Texas on Monday, 62 years after he died in a Korean prisoner of war camp.

His relatives -- whose DNA made his identification and return possible -- decided to bury his remains at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.

His family first considered burying Davis in his hometown of Tioga.

"But then we decided he wanted to be in the service so bad that the best place to bury him would be at the national cemetery," said his 77-year-old cousin, Helen White of Wylie. "We went out there today [Wednesday] and looked at it. We made a good decision."

Davis will be buried with military honors at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.

The graveside service will end a chapter of Davis' life that began when he was taken prisoner on Nov. 30, 1950. He was a member of B Battery of the 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was trying to fight off persistent attacks by Chinese troops pouring into North Korea.

Davis and his fellow POWs faced an ordeal before they were finally imprisoned in Camp No. 5, near the village of Pukchin-Tarigol, which the Americans called Camp Death Valley.

"They just marched them from one place to another," White said. "It was cold - real cold."

A year ago, military recovery team members briefed White about their ongoing efforts to recover Americans missing from the Korean War. She learned of the harsh conditions the soldiers endured.

"I had no idea how things were for him," she said. "I felt so bad when I found out what these kids went through."

Notes the researchers used included the debriefing of a doctor, one of the POWs who treated Davis, who said the private died on Jan. 20, 1951, of malnutrition, exhaustion and probably pneumonia, according to Department of Defense reports. The Army set his official date of death as March 31, 1951, because of conflicting dates given by other POWs.

Davis was born in Tioga and lived with his mother for about 18 months before his grandparents took him in to grow up on their Grayson County farm.

"I knew him pretty good as the pesky little cousin," White said. "I can still hear my grandmother say, 'Now Weldon, just leave her alone.'"

Davis, who was eager to join his uncles serving in the military during World War II, had his grandmother Fanny Davis falsify his age so he could enlist in the Navy when he was 16.

"They found out and they discharged him in [December] '43," White said. "Knowing him, he ran her nuts. He had uncles who were in the service and that's all he could think about. He wanted to be in the service."

After graduating from high school in Tioga, he lived with relatives in Amarillo and played minor league baseball in Texas and Oklahoma.

Davis joined the Army on Dec. 29, 1948, when he was 22.

In Korea, Davis gave a roadside interview with David Rasco, war correspondent for the Amarillo Globe, now the Amarillo Globe-News.

Davis said he was looking forward to playing catch later that day.

"After I get off duty, I'm going up to my tent," he told Rasco. "I got a brand-new baseball up there and me and my buddy's going to pitch it around a little."

Over the years, White remembered her cousin, especially when she saw him in family photos, "but I never thought they'd find him," she said. "I never thought he would come back."

In 2005, the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office discovered a shallow grave where 32 POWs, including Davis, had been buried near the POW camp. About two years ago, the identification team asked White for a DNA sample.

Just before Christmas, White learned the investigators had identified her cousin using her DNA and that of her son, Mike Hall.

"The lady from the Army told me it just matched perfect," she said.

The return and burial are comforting to White and her husband, C.T. White.

"It's good for us to know he was found and we're taking him to a place where he wanted to be," he said.

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