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Missing Korean War POW finally laid to rest at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery

By Steve Elliott | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Jan. 17, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas —

Cpl. Luis Patlan Torres finally made it home from the Korean War Jan. 13, after being missing in action as a prisoner of war in South Korea more than 66 years ago. He was buried at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with full military honors.

On Aug. 31, 1950, Torres, originally from Cone, a small town located northeast of Lubbock, Texas, was a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, where he his comrades set up their defenses on the east bank of the Naktong River in South Korea.

A nighttime North Korean assault defeated and scattered the American troops, with only 20 soldiers in the company returning that day. Torres was reported missing in action near Changyong, South Korea.

Torres’ name did not appear on any prisoner of war list, but one returning American prisoner of war reported that he believed Torres was held captive by the enemy and was executed. Due to the prolonged lack of evidence, the U.S. Army declared him deceased as of March 3, 1954.

Although the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service planned to recover American remains that remained north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone after the war, administrative details between the United Nations Command and North Korea complicated recovery efforts. An agreement was made and in September and October 1954, in what was known as Operation Glory, remains were returned. However, Torres’ remains were not included and he was declared non-recoverable.

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA, on Dec. 20, 1950, a set of unidentified remains, previously recovered from a shallow grave near Changyong, were buried in the Miryang United Nations Military Cemetery as “Unknown X-331.”

In February 1951, the remains were moved to the Tanggok United Nations Military Cemetery. Although Torres was considered a candidate for identification, the remains were not identified due to a lack of substantiating evidence. The remains were then moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu and buried as “Unknown.” Close to 8,000 soldiers were declared missing in action from the Korean War, according to the DPAA.

On May 16, 2016, the remains were disinterred and sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis. Laboratory analysis and circumstantial evidence were used in the identification of his remains. On Dec. 16, 2016, Torres’ family were told that their long-lost family member had been found and identified.

Torres’ remains traveled from Korea to Japan to Hawaii and finally to San Antonio for the burial at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery Jan. 13.

“It’s like a Hollywood story,” said Gregorio Patlan Torres, Luis’ brother, who is now 71. “This is a story that comes to an end and we are so grateful to this nation and to God that Luis is finally home.”

Gregorio said was very young, perhaps only four or five years old, the last time he saw Luis. A Vietnam War veteran himself, who served from 1966-67 with the 1st Cavalry, Gregorio is also a member of the Fort Sam Houston Memorial Services Detachment Honor Guard, a group which ensures all veterans approved by the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans affairs for interment at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery receive proper military burial honors by means of an Honor Guard firing three rifle volleys and the playing of Taps.

“My late mother told me that if she didn’t see Luis come home, she wanted me to keep up hope that he would come home someday,” Gregorio said. “I kept my faith and he did. I want to thank all the people involved, all the way from Washington, D.C., from the west coast to the east coast, because all the government offices and agencies were working together to make this happen.”