It’s a homecoming 70 years in the making that has finally helped bring closure to an area family.
Nicholas John “Jack” Valentine, age 25, of Cassville, Wis., was reported as missing in action in late 1950 during the Korean War and eventually presumed dead in 1954, but it wasn’t until recently that his remains were identified and ultimately laid to rest in his home country.
Helen Ertl, of Dyersville, and Mary Koehler, of Lake Geneva, Wis., both first cousins of Valentine, recently reminisced about an ordeal that put a lot of stress on their family following a funeral service for Valentine in Lancaster, Wis.
Valentine enlisted in the Army Sept. 9, 1948 and shortly after that was sent to serve in the Korean War.
A member of Battery B, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, Valentine was reported to be missing in action Dec. 6, 1950 after his unit was attacked by enemy forces as they attempted to withdraw near Chosin Reservoir, North Korea.
Koehler said she can still very clearly remember the day the family received the news.
“Why they called our house, I’ll never know,” Koehler recalled. “When mother came away from the phone, she said the department had called and Jack was missing in action. Maybe his folks didn’t have a telephone, I don’t know.”
Ertl said following that revelation, Valentine’s mother Hilda was never the same person.
After it became increasingly clear Valentine didn’t survive the ordeal, the family held a funeral for him in 1954.
“Back then, they had a tombstone put on the family grave, but now, that is where his remains are,” Koehler.
According to Valentine’s obituary, his remains arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on August 1, 2018, but it wasn’t until about two months ago that they were identified.
Ertl said Valentine’s remains were actually identified by using genetic material from his brother’s children, collected almost 15 years ago.
“The DNA of the nieces and nephews was stronger than what they could have gotten from (Jack’s) brother, which I found interesting,” Ertl said.
Only five of the Valentine first cousins remain, but all were able to make it to the recent funeral service, giving the family some sense of closure.
“Almost every family was represented,” Koehler said. “And most of them never knew Jack, I was young when this happened so I never got to know him very well.”
At the service, the family said they were very moved by the ceremony and reverence showcased by Army veterans.
“They all came up and saluted him,” Koehler said. “And when they played (The Army Goes Rolling Along), that got to everybody — the music was beautiful.”
Valentine’s remains were placed inside an army uniform decorated with his service medals, displayed in an open casket. When the remains made their way through Lancaster toward his final resting place, the citizenry came out to show respect, with many saluting or placing their hands over their hearts.
The service also left those in attendance to reflect on the legacy of the Korean War, which they said was beautifully articulated by the priest during his sermon.
Joe Ertl, Helen’s husband, said the priest explained that younger generations can’t truly appreciate what was sacrificed for these wars or how they helped to stop the spread of communism.
“It gave us peace for many years, although we are still there,” Joe said. “There’s a lot of truth to that — we’ve had pretty good living for the last 70 years.”
Joe said the events left him feeling grateful for the efforts made by the State Department and the Trump administration, who helped make this reunion possible.
“No matter how we like our presidents or the (Supreme Leader of North Korea) — I think it was wonderful that President Trump and (Kim Jong-un) arranged so that this could happen — it’s a miracle,” Joe said. “That says something about the job our country does for our servicemen — to think 15 years ago they went and got the DNA so someday they could take care of these guys, that really says something to me — the odds of him coming home were probably less than winning the lottery, but everyone is pleased that he was finally found.”