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(Tribune News Service) —The story of Army Cpl. Robert C. Agard Jr.'s loss and recovery covers more than 70 years.

It moves from South Korea to Hawaii, and from those who handle disinterment to the eyes of experts in science.

But for Agard, who was 19 when he died in the Korean War, the fate of his life and his remains are now certain.

"There's a saying in the military that you never leave a fallen comrade," said Sean P. Everette, at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. "It is still our sacred duty to go and find these people."

Agard, who had been serving with the Army's 2nd Platoon, 24th Reconnaissance Company, 24th Infantry Division when he died in July 1950, was identified more than a year ago, on Sept. 29, 2020. His identification was announced Tuesday by the military after his family had recently been fully briefed on his identification.

Dene Kimball of Longmeadow , Mass., a cousin of Agard, said he never dreamed the corporal's remains would be found.

"My first reaction was to put my hand on my heart and say, 'Be still,' " Kimball said in a telephone interview with The News on Tuesday.

He and the man he called Bobby were six years apart in age. Kimball was born in 1936 and Agard, an only child, was born in 1930. Kimball, who was a young teenager when Agard was first reported missing in action, said he looked up to his cousin as an older brother.

" Bobby Jr. was a very happy young man, and I can remember him having a good sense of humor," Kimball said.

Government scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA analysis to help make the match. The investigation also included anthropological and dental analysis.

Kimball said for nearly 70 years, unknown to him and his family, Agard's unidentified remains were tagged with the number X-311.

"And, maybe five or six years ago, two of my cousins were asked to submit DNA swabs, which they did, and about six months ago I got a phone call saying we have found your cousin's remains," Kimball said.

Agard's body was one of more than 600 Korean War remains disinterred from unknown graves in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii as part of a Korean War Identification Project. Agard's remains were disinterred in June 2019, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said.

Services for Agard will be held in Elmira on May 30.

"We could have had Bobby buried in Arlington, in D.C., but we've already got a plot for him near my parents and my grandparents and Bobby's mother. They're all buried in a cemetery outside of Elmira, N.Y.," Kimball said.

Agard was on night patrol in July 1950 when he went missing in action, around Taejon, South Korea, the agency said. In 1956, Agard had been "declared non-recoverable."

In December 1950, a set of remains was located that were ultimately identified as Agard, Everette said.

"Six months after he went missing, the remains were found," he said.

But it took more than 70 years for scientists to connect the body to Agard.

"They didn't even know what DNA was back then," Everette said.

While Agard was listed as having been from Buffalo, news accounts of his disappearance in Korea in 1950 noted that his family lived in Ithaca and Penn Yan.

In some ways, Everette said, the case of Agard and his loss and later identification is not all that unusual.

"Every missing service member, they have a story," Everette said.

Kimball said that, on behalf of his close-knit family, he is very grateful for the efforts of the government.

"I'm so proud of our country for doing this. They never gave up. They never stopped trying to find out who was whom," Kimball said.

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(c)2021 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

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Army Cpl. Robert C. Agard Jr., who had been serving with the Army’s 2nd Platoon, 24th Reconnaissance Company, 24th Infantry Division when he died in July 1950, was identified more than a year ago, on Sept. 29, 2020. His identification was announced Tuesday by the military after his family had recently been fully briefed on his identification.
Army Cpl. Robert C. Agard Jr., who had been serving with the Army’s 2nd Platoon, 24th Reconnaissance Company, 24th Infantry Division when he died in July 1950, was identified more than a year ago, on Sept. 29, 2020. His identification was announced Tuesday by the military after his family had recently been fully briefed on his identification. (Christopher Muncy/U.S. Air Force)

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