Niagara Falls Marine killed in Korean War to be buried in Arlington

By THOMAS J. PROHASKA | The Buffalo News, N.Y. | Published: July 18, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Sgt. Meredith F. "Buster" Keirn of the U.S. Marines died on a frozen North Korean hillside in 1950 after a grenade blast severed his left arm.

Marine Corps medics could only bury his body — not bring it with them — as they retreated from the area around the Chosin Reservoir.

Keirn's remains — which were returned to the U.S. in 2015 — will be buried on Aug. 8 with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

About 30 of his relatives will ride a bus from Western New York to be there, said Dottie Barr of Middleport, a niece.

"We're looking forward with pride and honor," Barr said Wednesday. "We're just glad he's finally home."

Keirn, who grew up in Niagara Falls, fought in the Korean War and also saw action on Iwo Jima during World War II.

"He fought in the two toughest battles in the history of the Marine Corps," Barr said.

The Marine Corps Memorial just outside Arlington Cemetery depicts the famous Iwo Jima flag-raising in 1945.

"They're going to do the procession with the horse-drawn caisson," Barr said.

The family will be allowed to walk behind the casket. The walk will be about a mile.

Keirn was 24 when he died. The details of his death are included in the 2009 book “The Last Stand of Fox Company,” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.

"I think it's rather remarkable that my family in the last year has learned so much history about this man," said Ken Keirn, a nephew and Barr's brother. "It's been a real moving experience."

The family has a large collection of Keirn's medals, citations and campaign ribbons, including a Purple Heart he received posthumously.

In Korea, Keirn was a light machine gun section leader in Fox Company, officially known as Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

Drury and Clavin wrote that he went into his final fight about 2:20 a.m. Nov. 28, 1950, when a Chinese force tried to drive Fox Company from a hill near the Chosin Reservoir.

"The Chinese continued to concentrate their attacks on the machine guns," Drury and Clavin wrote. "On the hilltop, Sergeant Keirn's nest was finally overrun. Four Marines in Keirn's crew died around him as he knocked six enemy soldiers down with his forty-five-caliber sidearm. He threw his empty pistol at another charging soldier just before his left arm was blown off by a fragmentation grenade."

In a counterattack, the Americans regained the position. Marines found Keirn alive.

"He sat on his haunches behind where his weapon should have been, as if firing an imaginary machine gun," the authors wrote.

He asked for a cigarette, and a fellow Marine lit one and put it between his lips.

"Keirn died the next morning in the med tent," Drury and Clavin wrote.

Keirn's body was among the remains of American troops handed over by North Korea to China. In 2015, the Chinese turned them over to the U.S.

At a military laboratory in Honolulu, a DNA sample from Keirn's brother, Darr Keirn, now 85, was used to positively identify Keirn's remains in May 2018.

Barr never knew her uncle. Her father died eight years ago.

"My dad never talked about his brother. He'd just get choked up," Barr said.

Ken Keirn said Darr Keirn is in a nursing home and won't be able to make the trip, but another living brother, Jan Reeves, 86, is expected to attend the burial service.

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