No family should have to go through the pain that Edward Reiter’s family went through.
Reiter was 17 when he dropped out of Northampton High School his junior year to join the Army in November 1949. Eight months later, he disappeared on a battlefield in South Korea, just weeks before the Korean War.
The tears his family cried and the sleep they lost considering the possible scenarios of what happened to their beloved must have been excruciating.
Seven decades later, his family was finally given the closure it deserved, thanks to the diligence of military specialists and advances in technology.
Military officials announced Tuesday that the remains were found in South Korea shortly after Pfc. Reiter disappeared, there were his.
After being buried as an unknown half a world away from Northampton for more than half a century, Reiter will soon be returning home.
Reiter was reported missing for several years.
A press release and report released Tuesday by the POW/MIA shed light on what happened to him.
His unit—Company K, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division—was one of the first U.S. ground forces to deploy to South Korea. Officials later admitted that the unit was undermanned, underequipped and uninformed.
Reiter and his colleagues’ job was to delay the North Korean advance as long as possible to allow reinforcements to arrive. On July 7, 1950, their unit suffered heavy losses near Cheonan.
After the fights, Reiter was nowhere to be found. There was no information that he was captured, but no clear information that he was killed. Forced to retreat, the unit was unable to recover all of its dead.
In 1956, after the war ended, the Army declared Reiter “irrecoverable,” a rather cold label. He was believed to have died.
However, Reiter’s remains were found five years ago, about 10 months after the battle where he was last seen. However, no one knew that at the time.
Then the military could not identify him. It was labeled only as X-1091 Tanggok, named after the region where it was found. His remains were buried as unknown with all other unidentified Korean War dead at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
Three years ago, his remains were exhumed along with those of 52 others found in this part of South Korea for further analysis.
Reiter was identified in June. The POW/MIA accounting agency delayed a public statement until Tuesday so his family could be notified first.
He was identified by scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, who used mitochondrial DNA analysis, and scientists from the DPAA, who used dental and anthropological analysis, chest X-ray comparisons, and circumstantial evidence.
The circumstances of his death remain unknown. Reuter will be buried in Northampton in the fall, authorities said.
It is the Marines who are known for their motto: “Until they’re home, there’s no one left.” But this is true for the entire US military. There is a dedicated team of professionals dedicated to bringing home every soldier, sailor and airman, no matter how long ago or where they died serving their country.
Many have already been found, but like Reuter, they could not be identified at the time. Scientific advances give the authorities a second chance, and they methodically handle these cases.
Five years ago I wrote about the identification of another long-lost Korean War soldierAlbert Atkins of Belvidere, New Jersey. He was declared missing in action after the battle in May 1951. His remains were recovered in 1966 and, like Reiter’s, were buried as unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In 2005, the Army determined that the remains could probably be identified. It took another dozen years, but the effort paid off and Atkins was reburied in the same Honolulu cemetery, 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 military personnel. Most of them were from the Second World War. A few were from Korea. They have been found in graves all over the world, including South Korea, the Philippines, Romania and Germany.
Among them is Army Air Force Sgt. Harold R. Boyd, 25, of Granger, Texas, a B-17G gunner who 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-unsolved cases should give other families suffering similar pain new faith that they too can finally learn what happened to their long-lost soldiers, and that they can finally welcome them home.
Morning Call columnist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or at firstname.lastname@example.org