Korean War vet’s remains returned after 63 years

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Nearly 8,000 soldiers are still listed as missing in action from the Korean War.

But that list is one name shorter after the remains of an Army corporal from West Virginia, who died in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp in 1951, came home Tuesday.

A flag-draped coffin containing the remains of Alva Clifford Groves arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport on a Delta flight from Atlanta, after which a hearse drove it to Shinnston, W.Va., escorted by the Army, the state police and the Patriot Guard Riders, a veterans’ motorcycle group.

Cpl. Groves’ family, which has waited 63 years to bury him, rode behind the hearse in a black van.

“I’m so thankful for what everyone has done,” said his sister, Lillian Anderson, before the drive south from the airport. “I’m just glad that the government didn’t give up.”

Cpl. Groves’ remains were returned to the U.S. two decades ago after being buried with hundreds of other bodies in a mass grave in Korea.

His niece, Sandra Buswink, said she began searching the internet in 2005 to discover his fate and learned that families of POWs can submit their DNA to the Army to see whether it matches any remains in a master database.

She asked Ms. Anderson to give a blood sample in 2006. A match finally came back in June.

Cpl. Groves, one of nine children, enlisted at 17 in 1949 and trained at Fort Knox, Ky.

“Because he was 17, his father had to sign for him to join,” Ms. Buswink said.

Cpl. Groves arrived in Korea in August 1950 with the 2nd Infantry Division. In November, his unit was attacked by a huge Chinese force while occupying a defensive position northeast of Kujang.

As Cpl. Groves’ unit retreated, he was reported missing in action Nov. 28, 1950, according to the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office, one of two military agencies assigned to track down missing soldiers from America's wars.

In August 1953, Chinese forces reported that Cpl. Groves had been captured during the fighting near Kujang and died of tuberculosis on April 14, 1951, in a POW camp in Pydokdong, North Korea.

Between 1991 and 1994, North Korea turned over to the U.S. more than 200 boxes of co-mingled human remains containing 350 to 400 U.S. soldiers. According to Korean documents, some of the remains were recovered from the Pydokdong prison camp.

Scientists from the Joint POW/​MIA Accounting Command, called JPAC, and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory were able to identify Cpl. Groves through circumstantial evidence and DNA matching.

Cpl. Groves was to be buried Thursday at the West Virginia National Cemetery in Pruntytown with full military honors. The Patriot Guards, which pay tribute to veterans at funerals around the country, provided a rolling honor guard all the way from Pittsburgh to the cemetery, two hours south.

“We do this to honor our fellow veterans,” said Aaron Zeff, secretary-treasurer of the Pennsylvania chapter and a Vietnam combat veteran. “Most of us work. It’s on our own time. Nobody gets paid.”

There are plenty of opportunities for them to participate in these ceremonies as the effort to locate the remains of servicemen from long-ago battlefields continues. There are 83,000 servicemen missing from past conflicts, and Congress has mandated that the military identify 200 a year.

The remains of another Korean War veteran, this one from New York, were returned home just last week.

But there are many more — 7,882 Americans remain unaccounted for from Korea. That number is just a fraction of the 73,000 MIAs from World War II.

Yet the government’s mission of finding them and bringing them home has been marked by scandal. Last year, JPAC was excoriated by two government reports saying it was inefficient in identifying remains and that its database of the missing is “riddled with unreliable data.”

Congress also has weighed in, accusing JPAC and DPMO of using outdated identification methods, ignoring private groups that could help find servicemen and allowing bureaucratic inertia to hamper the effort to find and repatriate remains.

As a result, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in March ordered that the two offices be combined into a new streamlined agency. At a Congressional hearing last month, officials said the new office is slated to be operational by January 2016.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510. First Published August 5, 2014 12:00 AM


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