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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Pacific NW

Korean War MIA soldier laid to rest in Vancouver

By Tom Vogt The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

The first burial for Pfc. William Butz was 66 years ago, in a hasty grave on the Korean battlefield where he died; he would be listed as an MIA – missing in action.

In the mid-1950s, his recovered remains were buried in an American military cemetery in Hawaii, where the grave was marked only as X-15726.

On Friday, the Vancouver, Washington, soldier was laid to rest again. This time, he was remembered by his family, honored by his community and saluted by his comrades in arms.

“It’s great. It’s been a long, long haul,” Betty Hein, the soldier’s sister, said after the graveside service.

“It’s joyous to have him home, to be fortunate to be one of the families to have this closure,” niece Donita Kessler said.

Lying about his age, Butz was only 17 when he enlisted. Butz was barely a month past his 18th birthday in November 1950 when an American force pushed into North Korea. The Chinese Communist army pushed back, resulting in fierce fighting near the Chosin Reservoir.

Butz was one of thousands of Korean War MIAs until April, when the U.S. military’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency notified Betty and Gary Hein that Butz’s remains had been positively identified.

A booklet that was part of the notification process explained the sequence of events. In 1954, after a cease-fire, the two sides exchanged the remains of war dead. They included the remains of a soldier – a fairly complete skeleton – that had been uncovered in a one-person grave, according to the booklet.

Remains of U.S. troops were turned over to an Army identification unit. Unidentified remains were buried as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, known as the Punchbowl.

In 1999, with updated technology, investigators began to take another look at some of the unknowns. The remains designated X-15726 were exhumed on Dec. 7, 2015, for further analysis.

Scientists used dental records and chest X-rays that had been taken in March 1950 to identify Butz; officials notified the soldier’s family in April so they could start thinking about arrangements. Butz’s remains were transported to Vancouver last week.

Friday’s service for Butz drew dozens of community members with their own military backgrounds, including Korean War veterans.

“We’re glad to have him home,” said Jerry Keesee, one of the founders of the Richard L. Quatier Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association of Southwest Washington.

Local veteran Dan Tarbell has a particular interest in supporting families of those who are missing in action. He’s the national POW/MIA director for the Forty and Eight veterans’ organization.

“To me, that was heart-warming: final closure,” Tarbell said. But there still are about 7,800 Korean War MIAs, he said. “My heart goes out to those families.”

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