Support our mission
 
Army 1st Lt. Anthony R. Mazzulla was listed as missing on Dec. 2, 1950. His remains were recently identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Army 1st Lt. Anthony R. Mazzulla was listed as missing on Dec. 2, 1950. His remains were recently identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (Mazzulla Family)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Tribune News Service) — A few weathered bones of a U.S. Army lieutenant from Rhode Island who died in North Korea on Dec. 2, 1950, will get a hero’s homecoming Tuesday after a 70-year delay, and all because two unpredictable players on the world stage did something unexpected in June 2018.

Then-President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un met in Singapore, Trump to convince Kim to give up his goal of building a nuclear arsenal and Kim, perhaps, to agree to anything but that. As a result, North Korea in July released 55 small boxes it said were the remains of U.S. soldiers who died in North Korea during the Korean War.

So far, the remains have led to the identification of 77 soldiers by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA, which employs experts in such fields as forensic anthropology, archaeology, genetics and medicine, and as many as 1,000 people around the world. Their mission is to account for every missing service member and give a full accounting to their families and the nation. An estimated 5,300 are still missing in North Korea and 82,000 from all other wars since World War II.

Samples of DNA taken from each bone were sent to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) in Dover, Delaware, to begin the painstaking process of identification. At least two of the bones that had arrived in separate boxes matched each other and aligned with DNA on file from 90% of the families whose loved one is missing. They were identified as Army 1st Lt. Anthony R. Mazzulla of Johnston.

Waiting for the plane to deliver her uncle will be his oldest niece who is his next of kin and was the light of his mother’s life after he died. Lois Marandola, 66, and a few other relatives will be on the tarmac at T.F. Green.

With them will be an honor guard from the R.I. Army National Guard. Maybe also a few hundred veterans and other Americans who would like to stand and honor a man who met his death under some of the worst battle conditions in history.

The airport honors will be the same as for any member of the military brought home in a flag-draped casket, even those who had been alive the day before yesterday. After the family has had a moment at the casket, the soldiers become well-drilled pallbearers, conveying the coffin from the plane to a hearse. Military vehicles, veterans groups and fire and rescue trucks will fall in behind state and local police leading them to the funeral home, in this case Nardolillo on Park Avenue in Cranston. Tuesday’s solemn procession, however, might break into happiness that Mazzulla is home at last.

Marandola never met her uncle, who died five years before she was born. But in a way, he and she share an almost sibling relationship; both got much of their rearing from the same woman, his mother.

Jennie Mazzulla died at age 93, outliving her husband and all four of her sons, including Lois’ father, the youngest. She had longed to raise a little girl, and when Lois arrived, the first girl after a generation of one boy after another, the terms were that she would be her grandmother’s joy. She accepted. Her parents let her spend as much time at her grandmother’s as she and her grandmother wanted.

Growing up, Lois knew of her grandmother’s sorrow and her devotion to Anthony. “My grandmother vowed to Saint Anthony not to eat meat on Tuesday for the rest of her life,” said the former Lois Mazzulla, who married Roger Marandola, a player at the ball field her father managed and where Lois operated the scoreboard. They are still married. The field is now called the Dan Mazzulla Field, in honor of her father.

“She was very active” in the Gold Star organization, Marandola said. “I used to attend the meetings; I would help with the fundraisers.”

Trying to describe her uncle, Marandola started with: “He was an altar boy at St. Rocco’s Church.” Anthony was born in the Bronx but the family moved to Johnston after his older brother died at around age 5. Anthony went to La Salle and attended Providence College for a year before he was drafted into World War II, “He was very, very smart,” she said, “but also quiet.”

After the war, he reenlisted to seize an opportunity for expedited officer training. He never dreamed, Marandola said, that the United States would enter another war so soon.

Mazzulla was listed as missing on Dec. 2, 1950, because nobody could account for him. His body probably lay on the battlefield where he fell, along with many who fought and fell beside him that day. At some point, the weathered bones were pushed into mass graves. Random bones were apparently packed into the boxes and released to the United States.

A former Air Force officer who briefs families about to receive the repatriated remains of a loved one identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said the American dead from the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea were probably buried in shallow graves where they fell and left in the elements for decades. As Michael Mee told Marandola when he gave her and a few others his informational briefing at her house, it was a terrible battle.

The better-equipped UN and South Korean forces were cut off from the retreat they were ordered to take by an army of Chinese volunteers that outnumbered them 10 to 1 and had them surrounded. The Western forces, equipped with superior firepower, were rendered defenseless except in hand-to-hand combat when extreme cold froze every moving part on every piece of machinery.

As Marandola tells the private history lesson she learned that day. “Our soldiers did not have proper uniforms,” for the cold, which dropped to 60 below. “It was the record at the time. They didn’t have winter uniforms” or boots.

“How this happened,” she said, “is we had about 10,000 and the Chinese had 100,000. It’s crazy because I could almost visualize what was taking place” as Mee described the fighting.

“I can only imagine how afraid they were” as the Chinese ran up to them to kill at close range. They fought to open a path for their retreat. “They had to be afraid.”

Mazzulla had just turned 26 a few weeks before. As indicated by the list of soldiers and Marines identified as dying near him on the same day, many were only 18.

On Saturday,the remains of Anthony Mazzulla will be laid to rest at St. Ann’s Cemetery in Cranston with full military honors. He will be surrounded by his family, an answer to his mother’s prayers and lifelong devotion.

“I just really can’t even believe this is happening,” Marandola said. “Hearing stuff

from my grandmother, and knowing the vow that she made... You just don’t think it’s going to happen, and here we are, 70 years later.”

She has happy feelings, she said, knowing that he’ll rest with his parents. “It’s a comforting feeling.”

“The heartbreaking part is that my grandparents never knew that their son’s remains would be coming home.”

Nearly the whole time Mee was telling her uncle’s story, Marandola said, “I was in amazement. All I kept doing was getting goose bumps.”

©2021 www.providencejournal.com

Visit providencejournal.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up