INITIAL REPORT (Nov. 4):
A Dayton soldier believed to have died during the Korean War inside a prisoner of war camp in North Korea will be flown to his hometown next week, according to the Defense Department.
A commercial airliner carrying the remains of Army Pfc. Lavern C. Ullmer of Dayton is scheduled to land at Dayton International Airport on Tuesday. A funeral with military honors is set for Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 11, at SouthBrook Christian Church in Miami Twp., family members say.
“It’s a miracle,” said John R. Gray, 76, a nephew who remembered as a child seeing his uncle in uniform across decades of separation. “It truly is a miracle. I never dreamed I’d see it come in my lifetime. It really jolted me. It stirred me.”
Ullmer will be buried between the grave sites of his parents, John and Helen Ullmer, at Willow View Cemetery on Neff Road, family members said Friday. At the time of his death in North Korea, the younger Ullmer was 23 years old.
“I think everyone is emotional,”said Marsha Mosher, 64, of Centerville, a niece of Lavern Ullmer.
“I think my mom felt like we never had a body, so we had no closure,” she said. “Maybe there were hopes he was still alive.” Mosher’s mother, Leila “Jackie” Gray, a sister to Ullmer, died in 1978.
“It’s moving, it’s humbling in a lot of ways,” said Rhonda L. Davis, 57, another niece who lives in Centerville. “It’s moving because my mom isn’t here to see it or my aunt.”
According to the Defense Department, Ullmer’s unit fought the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces in heavy combat in North Korea in late 1950. Ullmer was part of Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. Within days, half the U.S. Army regiment was lost to enemy attacks as it fought along a road that troops called “the Gauntlet” between Kunu-ri and Sunch’on from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1, 1950, according to the Army.
Ullmer was declared missing in action Nov. 30, 1950, after he was not accounted for when the Army unit withdrew under orders, the Defense Department said.
The soldier’s name did not appear on POW lists released by the Chinese military or the North Korean People’s Army. But he was declared deceased after two repatriated American POWs reported Ullmer died Jan. 21, 1951, in Hofong Camp, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The Army listed the cause of death as malnutrition and pneumonia. He also apparently suffered a gunshot wound, according to Gray.
Gray vividly remembered as a child coming home from school in the early 1950s and seeing his family reacting to the news that Ullmer was missing on an overseas battlefield.
“Everybody was crying,” he said.
In April 2005, a Joint Recovery Team of American archaeologists and anthropologists found the remains of U.S. soldiers in Unsan County in the South Pyongan Province in North Korea. A local witness told authorities where the remains would be found, the agency said.
Military authorities gathered DNA from two family members and reviewed circumstantial evidence to conclude one of the soldier’s remains belonged to Ullmer, said Staff Sgt. Kristen Duus, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency spokeswoman in Crystal City, Va.
“We do have a number of identifications going on simultaneously so it does take some time,” she said.
Finding a relative’s remains is rare among the more than 83,000 U.S. service members still listed as missing in action since World War II. Of those, nearly 7,800 are from the Korean War. In the last fiscal year, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency made 164 identifications of service members remains from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the spokeswoman said.
Some family members said they received notification of Ullmer’s positive identification in October, years after two family members provided DNA samples.
“With me, I thought it was not a match because we hadn’t heard anything,” Davis said. “… After so many years, you think what’s the possibility?”
Last month, the Army told the family in detail of their findings, including what happened while Ullmer was in North Korea, family members said. An Army casualty assistance officer has stayed in contact with his relatives while they await Ullmer’s return, said Steven R. Gray, 55, a nephew who lives in Dayton.
Ullmer’s remains will be flown from a military identification laboratory in Hawaii to Dayton.
“We thank God that he’s home,” Steven Gray said. “It’s a blessing.”