This country has a number of days during the year dedicated to remembering the men and women who have served in our military over the years. We remember the living veterans and the deceased. One aspect of the deceased concerns the thousands who are still listed in records as MIA – Missing in Action.
We don’t know exactly what happened to those troops except that they were missing in certain battles – and never found. Were they prisoners or killed in action? We don’t know. For their families at home, it is a terrible void that for most is never filled.
But this November, for a family in Douglas, Arizona, the mystery of their beloved family member was solved. On Nov. 17, Sgt. 1st Class Frank G. Vejar was laid to rest next to the graves of his parents in the veteran’s section of Calvary Cemetery – nearly 71 years after the date it was believed he was killed in the Korean War.
It was the answer to the prayers of his family, which only knew that he was reported killed in action on Nov. 30, 1950, on the Korean Peninsula near the Chosin Reservoir. He was 19 years old.
According to a report about Sgt. Vejar in the Sierra Vista Herald Review, Vehar had to get permission from a family member to join the military, under-age, at 16. He did, and after training, was assigned to the heavy mortar company of the 31st Regimental Combat Team, part of the 7th Infantry Division. On Nov. 27, 1950, the 31st replaced a Marine regiment at the Choisin Reservoir.
It’s reported that on Nov. 30 the troops took such a strong Chinese attack that out of almost 3,300 men, only 385 got across the frozen reservoir unwounded. Sgt. Vejar was one of the missing.
Anita Rose, Vejar’s sister said that her mother got notice of her brother being Missing in Action in January of 1951, and he was presumed dead on Dec. 31, 1953. That’s it. Just gone.
The family lived with the loss and grief all those years and spent more than a decade trying to find information as to the whereabouts of his body – to no avail.
But that changed on April 14, 2020, when the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the tests of about 5,000 remains turned over to the United States by North Korea in 2018.
Tests showed one of those remains to be Vehar’s. It was the answer to the prayers of the family even though his parents did not live to know of it. Frank Vejar finally came home to a hero’s welcome.
His remains were flown to Tucson International Airport and the Fort Huachuca Select Honor Guard was there to receive them and escort the mortuary vehicle to Douglas. They were escorted by local police officers and firefighters who passed under a large American flag at the Fire Departments Ladder 1 as Vejar’s remains entered town.
A funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Luke’s Catholic Church, after which Frank Vejar was interred.
He was buried with full military honors, which included the playing of taps and the traditional 21-gun salute by the Fort Huachuca Honor Guard, which carried his coffin.
His sister Anita said, “I now have a peace of mind knowing that (Frank) is finally home and so close to my mom and dad who are resting right behind him. For him to come home after all these years is surreal.”
Vejar’s younger brother, Efraim Valdez, said, “I’m so happy we were finally able to put him to rest. I’m sure my mom is very happy too. This is such a great day for my brother and our family.”
Both brother and sister expressed since appreciation and thanks for the wholehearted support by the military and the community for the return of their brother.
The mayor of Douglas, Donald Huish, was there for the ceremonies and spoke for many:
“I take great comfort in knowing we finally got one of our heroes home, and now he’s resting where he should be.
“We pray for peace for his family and all those who are still searching for their loved ones, that someday they might find them also.”
This tragedy had a resolution, but for thousands of other families, there is no answer. Imagine that North Korea kept those remains for years before they returned them to this country; and they have more. North Korea isn’t alone. Other former war enemies do the same – and it is more than a tragedy, it is a sacrilege. If there is any justice in the world, this will end, but it’s hard to believe that will ever happen, given the hatred in the hearts of war enemies.
If you believe in prayer, pray for those lost soldiers and their still-grieving families.
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