Missing soldier’s remains to be buried at Cedar Hill|[7/22/06]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 22, 2006

More than a half-century after he was assumed killed in action in North Korea, a veteran of what is sometimes called The Forgotten War is coming home for a proper burial.

The remains of Pfc. Oscar Nettles will be buried Aug. 31 at Cedar Hill Cemetery in a ceremony nearly seven years after his remains were identified and his family was contacted. Lakeview Memorial Funeral Home has charge of arrangements.

&#8220We’ll finally have some closure on it now,” said Nettles’ sister, Rosa Griffin, 68, as she thumbed through a detailed report on how the Vicksburg native went missing in the totalitarian state.

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Nettles was born March 10, 1930, in Vicksburg and attended the McIntire School on Cherry Street where Good Shepherd Community Center stands today. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1949, less than a year after President Harry Truman sent a civil rights agenda to Congress, the first step to a racially integrated military.

Nettles was assigned to Company A of the the 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, then engaged against Chinese Communist forces assisting the North Koreans after the Western Allied victory at the Battle of Inchon.

According to a Department of Defense Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command report supplied to the family, Nettles went missing Nov. 26, 1950, while with the 863rd Transportation Company.

While missing, Nettles was promoted to Private First Class status. Later, a military review board amended his status to presumed Killed In Action.

In November 1999, a joint team of investigators from the United States and the North Korean government went to a location in Kujang-Dong, in the north central part of the country east of Pyongyang, to look into a a burial site believed to be a U.S. soldier’s.

The team interviewed a 65-year-old male villager there who was 16 when Nettles went missing. The man told the team that two paratroopers, one white and one black, landed on a hill near the village and were spotted by North Korean reservists.

The black paratrooper was shot and killed and was buried by the man’s father and village elders, the man reported. He pointed out the burial mound to investigators.

A series of tests done by the Army’s DNA lab ensued, including comparisons of Griffin and one of her daughters, Sherry Johnson, earlier this year. It also compared Nettles’ dental records with those found on the human remains unearthed by the team.

The report, prepared in March 2006, positively identified the remains as Nettles’.

For Griffin and her mother, Evelyn Smith, 91, the news caused mixed feelings, given their emotional journey in recent years.

&#8220I’ve lost my husband and a son in the last two years,” Griffin said. &#8220She (Evelyn) is just trying to get through this.”

The family learned just before Mother’s Day in May that the tests proved the relation between Nettles and the women.

Griffin and Nettles lived with their grandmother and Griffin was 11 when her brother joined the Army. Most of the memories she has of him are of the two playing as children near the streets in areas not far from her Oak Street home.

”We’d play right there behind the old Sutton’s Ice Cream,” Griffin said.

Despite their emotions, Griffin said, both sister and mother know Nettles is finally coming home.