HOUSTON – A Louisiana soldier who was killed after being captured during the Korean War was laid to rest Friday morning in Houston.
Army Sgt. John Hall was a member of Headquarters Battery, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. His unit received orders on Nov. 29, 1950, to move to Sunchon, North Korea, and he went missing a few days later during the unit’s withdrawal through an area known as “The Gauntlet,” according to the Department of Defense.
After the war, a returning American prisoner of war reported that Hall had been captured and was killed on Jan. 26, 1951, at Hofong Camp, also known as “Death Valley,” according to the DOD.
His remains were not identified until 2005.
He was accounted for on June 6, 2017 following scientific tests to confirm the identity of his remains.
A plane carrying Hall’s body arrived at Bush Intercontinental Airport just before noon Tuesday. His family, who waited nearly 70 years, welcomed him home.
"It means that we finally received his remains and have the opportunity to put them at rest. Even though his mother was aware that he had passed, it's different when you have the remains of the body to put at rest,” said his niece, Deidra McKinnis.
She led Hall’s family to the edge of the plane. The honor guard stood watch as the flag-draped casket was loaded into the hearse.
"For the family, it's just an abundance of emotions, joy, sorrow, but overwhelming peace to know that we do have part of his remains," McKinnis said.
There were salutes as people lined the concourse and the airplane windows to see this delayed homecoming.
"Mixed emotions. It was a relief as well as overwhelmed emotions. But gratefulness. Grateful to God for allowing us to have this opportunity to lay his body at rest," McKinnis said.
On Friday, Hall was buried at Houston National Cemetery with full military honors. The Patriot Guard Riders, a group that aims to ensure dignity and respect at memorial services honoring fallen military heroes, lined the road with American and Texas flags in hand while the hearse carrying Sgt. Hall’s body made its way through the cemetery grounds to the shelter where the funeral service took place.
"I think for us for today -- it's about taking a pause and actually recognizing the ultimate sacrifice -- not only for him -- it's about 70 years overdue -- but also for his family," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mario A. Rivera.
Lt. Col. Rivera also presented the family with a Purple Heart, awarded in the name of the president to those injured or killed while serving.
"I'm so blessed and honored to have this privilege to honor him, because it's been a long, hard road for the family. All of his siblings are no longer here to welcome him back," said niece Stephanie Fontenot.
His family also received the presidential memorial certificate signed by President Donald Trump.
Also in attendance at the service was the Honorable Hyung Gil Kim, consul general of the Republic of Korea.
“[These soldiers] came to Korea even before I was born. Because of their service and sacrifice, I was born and educated and free so I could be here as consul general. So we Koreans will never forget the sacrifice and service of Korean War veterans,” Kim said.
And Hall’s story will be shared.
"It's been an honor for me to learn to the full extent everything he did," said his great-nephew Joshua Fontenot.
For Hall’s family, this was a page turn in a long, bittersweet chapter.
“More sweet than bitter at this point, because the bitterness was not having the final closure. Not having him home and so now, we can rest in peace,” Stephanie Fontenot said.