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Nearly 60 years later, a Korean War vet is identified

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Sgt. Charles P. Whitler will be buried with full military honors
  • Enemy forces attacked Whitler's unit in November 1950
  • The remains were found six years ago

(CNN) -- A Kentucky service member who was missing in action during the Korean War has been identified, a Defense Department agency said on Wednesday.

The Defense Prisoner of War-Missing Personnel Office said the remains of U.S. Army Sgt. Charles P. Whitler of Cloverport, Kentucky, were identified and returned to his family. He will be buried with full military honors.

Maj. Carie Parker, spokeswoman for the office, said about 85 missing service members have been identified every year from past conflicts -- World War I up through Cold War conflicts. More than 8,000 service members remain missing from the Korea War.

Whitler had been assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment in Novermber 1950 when troops were "occupying a defensive position near the town of Unsan by the Kuryong River known as the 'Camel's Head.' "

Enemy forces attacked U.S. troops, and Whitler's unit "was involved in fighting which devolved into hand-to-hand combat around the 3rd Battalion's command post."

The military said nearly 400 men were reported missing or killed in action following the battle, and later that month, several Americans were moved to a house during the battle and were shot dead.

A joint U.S.-North Korean team, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, excavated a mass grave in 2004 near the "Camel's Head."

An elderly North Korean man said he witnessed the deaths of seven or eight U.S. soldiers near that location and described the burial site. The team found human remains and other personal artifacts, and that led to the identification of seven soldiers, including Whitler.

Experts interviewed witnesses to get to the bottom of Whitler's captivity and death, and used dental comparisons and mitochondrial DNA that matched his sister's and niece's to make the identification.