Funeral for repatriated Korean War soldier brings closure
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — On a trip to the Demilitarized Zone in January 2000, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Jenkins peered into North Korea from a hilltop and thought about his uncle — the man he’d come to think of as Uncle Shorty.
“Out over the DMZ, I wrote a poem about my uncle still being there,” said Jenkins, now stationed with the 106th Transportation Battalion at Fort Campbell, Ky. “It was really weird because shortly after that, I learned they sent a mission up into North Korea to recover remains. It never occurred to me they might find my uncle.”
It took 56 years, but Jenkins’ great-uncle, Army Pfc. Francis Crater Jr., now is home for good.
The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced this week that it positively had identified Crater, who died after an overwhelming Chinese assault in North Korea on Nov. 28, 1950.
Jenkins and his family laid Crater to rest in front of 150 people in Akron, Ohio, on Oct. 21.
“The funeral we did was one of the most profound experiences of my life,” Jenkins said during a phone interview with Stars and Stripes.
Jenkins delivered the eulogy in front of his grandfather, Glenn Crater, 79, and other family members.
Crater’s 32nd Infantry Regiment was assigned temporarily to the Army’s 31st Regimental Combat Team on Nov. 27, 1950, when a massive and unexpected wave of Chinese soldiers attacked the heavily outnumbered United Nations forces.
Jenkins spoke to the lone U.S. survivor of that attack in Crater’s unit.
“He said [Crater] was fighting them off, hopping from one machine gun nest to the other,” Jenkins said. “He saw my uncle fighting hand-to-hand in the nest, trying to save his comrades. When he last saw him, they were overrun in the nest.”
Crater had multiple bullet wounds and likely died from a Chinese bullet to the head, Jenkins said.
For Jenkins, it’s an awe-inspiring story, made more so by Crater’s 5’3”, 125-pound body and temperatures well below freezing.
The remaining allied troops were forced to retreat from the onslaught, leaving Crater’s and others’ remains behind.
Between 2002 and 2003, Crater’s comrades came back for him. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command excavated two adjacent mass graves on the eastern shore of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The team found remains of eight people, including Crater’s dog tags.
Recovery teams worked in North Korea from 1996 to 2005, when the United States suspended the effort due to force-protection concerns, said spokesman Larry Greer.
During that time, 225 people were recovered and 29 have been identified, Greer said during a phone interview.
“Scientists spend considerable time segregating the remains to make sure they’re not inadvertently commingling,” Greer said. “We don’t want to return the wrong remains to the family.”
Scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons to identify Crater. The DNA comparison came after tracking down Crater’s relatives and taking samples, Greer said.
The family found out that 88 percent of Crater’s remains had been identified about three months ago, Jenkins said.
Jenkins and his sister took it upon themselves to organize the funeral. He said their grandfather long had wished to let people know there was once a man in this world named Francis Crater.
“At the funeral there were children, there were veterans and some were just proud Americans,” Jenkins said. “My grandfather thought no one would care about Francis. He was in tears — it really touched him.”