Korean War veteran Pfc. Edward Reiter.

Korean War veteran Pfc. Edward Reiter. (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency)

(Tribune News Service) — No family should have to endure the pain that the family of Edward Reiter endured.

Reiter was 17 when he dropped out of Northampton Area High School during his junior year to enlist in the Army in November 1949. Eight months later, he disappeared on a battlefield in South Korea, just weeks into the Korean War.

The tears his family cried and the sleep they lost as they ran through the possible scenarios of what happened to their beloved must have been torturous.

Seven decades later, his family finally received the closure it deserved, due to the diligence of military professionals and because of advancements in technology.

Tuesday, military officials announced that remains found in South Korea not long after Pfc. Reiter disappeared were his.

After being buried for more than half-a-century as an unknown half a world away from Northampton, Reiter soon will come home.

For several years, Reiter was classified as missing in action.

A news release and report issued Tuesday by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency sheds some light on what happened to him.

His unit — K Company, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division — was among the first U.S. ground troops deployed to South Korea. Officials later acknowledged the unit was undermanned, underequipped and inexperienced.

The job of Reiter and his colleagues was to delay North Korea’s advance as long as possible, to allow for reinforcements to arrive. On July 7, 1950, their unit sustained heavy casualties near Ch’onan.

After the fighting, Reiter was nowhere to be found. There was no report of him being taken prisoner, but also no definitive accounts he had been killed. Forced to retreat, the unit was unable to recover all of its dead.

In 1956, after the war’s end, the Army declared Reiter to be “non-recoverable” — quite a cold label. He was presumed to be dead.

Yet Reiter’s remains had been discovered five years earlier, about 10 months after the battle where he had last been seen. No one knew it at the time, though.

Military officials were unable to identify him then. He was designated only as X-1091 Tanggok, named for the region where he was found. His remains were buried as unknown, with all other unidentified dead of the Korean War, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

Three years ago, his remains were disinterred, along with those of 52 others who had been discovered in that part of South Korea, for further analysis.

In June, Reiter was identified. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency delayed making a public announcement until Tuesday so his family could be briefed first.

He was identified by scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System who used mitochondrial DNA analysis, and by scientists from DPAA who used dental and anthropological analysis, chest radiograph comparison and circumstantial evidence.

The circumstances of his death remain unknown. Reiter will be buried in Northampton in the fall, authorities said.

It is the Marines that are known for the motto, “Until they are home, no man left behind.” But that’s true of the entire U.S. military. There is a dedicated team of professionals who are committed to bringing home every soldier, sailor and airman, regardless of how long ago, or where, they perished while serving their country.

Many already have been recovered, but like Reiter, were unidentifiable at the time. Scientific advancements are giving authorities a second opportunity, and they are methodically reviewing those cases.

Five years ago, I wrote about the identification of another long-lost Korean War soldier, Albert Atkins of Belvidere, N.J. He was declared missing after a battle in May 1951. His remains were discovered in 1966 and, like Reiter’s, buried as unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

The Army determined in 2005 that the remains likely could be identified. That took another dozen years, but the effort succeeded and Atkins was reburied in the same cemetery in Honolulu, this time with a marker bearing his name.

There have been other more-recent success stories. This month alone, the DPAA announced the identification of 36 previously unknown service members. Most were from World War II. A few were from Korea. They had been discovered in graves around the world including South Korea, the Philippines, Romania and Germany.

They include Army Air Forces Sgt. Herald R. Boyd, 25, of Granger, Texas, a gunner on a B-17G that was shot down in Berlin in February 1945; and Navy Seaman 2nd Class John Bock, Jr., 18, of St. Louis, who was aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was sunk at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The resolution of these long-cold cases should give other families in similar pain new faith that they may eventually find out what happened to their long-lost soldiers, too, and that they will be able to finally welcome them home.

©2022 The Morning Call.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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