Heron Blevins was only 18 years old when he starved to death in a North Korean prisoner of war camp more than six decades ago.
But his fate was never known until recently, when Army officials told the Blevins family what really happened.
“We always thought he was missing,” Heron Blevins’ brother, Lee Blevins said. “That’s what we were told.”
On Tuesday, Heron Blevins’ remains were finally laid to rest with full military honors at the foot of his mother’s grave at Rest Haven Cemetery in Hagerstown.
Lee Blevins said the funeral provided closure.
“To have him home in his own soil, even though it may seem crazy, is a comforting sense,” Lee Blevins said. “He’s here. He’s home with us now. There’s no longer any worry about where is he?”
Heron Blevins was a soldier serving in the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division when the unit was overrun by Chinese communist forces during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in late November of 1950, according to information provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Blevins was reported missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950.
American prisoners of war who were repatriated after the Korean War ended in 1953 told debriefers that Blevins was wounded and captured by enemy forces. Records show he is believed to have died of malnutrition in the “Death Valley” prisoner of war camp in January of 1951.
Blevins’ remains were not among those returned by communist forces at the end of the war.
It wasn’t until between 1991 to 1994 that North Korea gave the United States 208 boxes believed to contain the remains of 200 to 400 American service personnel, according to the Department of Defense.
North Korean documents that were turned over with the boxes indicated some of the remains were recovered from the same area where Blevins was last seen.
DNA samples and dental records confirmed that Blevins’ remains, which included a portion of his skull, jawbone and scapulas, were among those in the boxes.
On Tuesday, those remains were enclosed in a flag-draped coffin, with an Army dress jacket bearing Blevins’ private first class insignia. The jacket also bore his posthumous military awards, including two purple hearts and the Prisoner of War medal.
There had been a discrepancy in the spelling of Heron Blevins’ first name because surviving family members were uncertain about the exact spelling.
Lee Blevins said the family decided to use Heron as the spelling after finding it written that way by his mother on the back of an old photograph.
In addition to the Blevins family and friends, the funeral was attended by riders from motorcycle groups and members of Antietam Chapter 312 of the Korean War Veterans Association.
Hagerstown resident and Korean War veteran Robert E. Miller Sr. said he knew Heron Blevins when they were children.
The 80-year-old Miller recalled a chance meeting the two enjoyed on a troop ship during the war as they waited to invade the North Korean coast.
“I was surprised to run in to him,” Miller said. “We just talked about being there and wished each other good luck. We knew we were going to get off and make that invasion.”
Miller said he remembered the Chosin Reservoir as being extremely cold, and said he was saddened by Blevins’ death.
“I’m glad he’s finally home,” Miller said.
Lee Blevins said his family paid a high price during the Korean War.
He said another brother, Lonnie, also died in January 1951 fighting the Chinese.
Lonnie Blevins’ body was shipped home from Korea that same year and buried at Rest Haven — not far from the site of his family’s plot.