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Remains of Korean War POW finally make it home 66 years later

By David DeKunder | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | July 13, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

Sixty-six years after he was reported missing in action and died while serving in the Korean War, Army Cpl. Frank Sandoval was laid to rest in his hometown of San Antonio July 11 with military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

Family members, including two of Sandoval’s sons, Alejandro and Frank Jr., attended the military service in which Sandoval’s remains were brought by caisson to family members gathered in the Assembly area at the cemetery and included a three-gun salute, Taps and presentation of flags to both of Sandoval’s sons.

The 20-year-old Sandoval was a member of Battery A, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was supporting the South Korean Army in attacks against the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces, or CPVF, in North Korea when he was captured by the CPVF in February 1951 and reported missing in action.

Sandoval was confirmed deceased by the Army in 1953 after several returning American prisoners of war reported that Sandoval had died while being held in Camp 3, a POW camp near Changsong, North Korea.

Frank Sandoval Jr. said he is grateful that he got to see his father’s remains returned home.

“It means a lot,” he said. “So many years have gone by and it’s unbelievable; the day is unbelievable. He was gone when I was little. I never got to know him. We’re very glad he is home where we can see him.

“By him coming home has taken off a lot of weight off our backs,” Sandoval Jr. added. “Now we can sleep easier at night. We’re a family again.”

In May, Sandoval’s remains were identified by scientists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which provides the fullest possible accounting of missing servicemembers to their families, after undergoing a thorough laboratory analysis.

His remains had been interred and labeled unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, after they were obtained from North Korea in 1954 after United Nations and communist forces exchanged the remains of the war dead.

Alejandro Sandoval, the eldest son of Sandoval’s, was three or four years old when his father was captured in Korea. He said the return of his father’s remains brings final closure to the Sandoval family.

“We finally have a father,” Alejandro said, who served for 10 years in the Army.

Also attending the service was Oscar Cortez, a former Korean War POW, who served in the same unit with Sandoval. He and Sandoval were captured at the same time and were both held in Camp 3.

Cortez, who served for 20 years in the Army, said the last time he spoke to Sandoval in the prison camp, Sandoval told him he was going to the prison hospital. Cortez knew at that time he wouldn’t see Sandoval again because prisoners who went to the prison camp hospital never came back alive.

“Sixty-five years ago, I said my goodbyes to Frank,” Cortez said.

Cortez spent 2 ½ years as a POW before being released Aug. 26, 1953, after the Korean Armistice Agreement ended the war.

Once he returned home, Cortez, who lives in San Antonio, said he tried to get in touch with Sandoval’s family to let them know what had happened to them, but was unable to.

“I’m just glad he’s finally home,” he said. “I always thought about him. I always tried to locate his family because I wanted to let them know about Frank.”

Cortez presented a framed photo of the unit he and Sandoval served in while they were in action to Sandoval’s sons. Cortez, 85, said the photo was taken three to four days before their unit was captured.

One of Sandoval’s grandchildren and Alejandro’s son, Alex Sandoval II, said before the service it was an honor that his late grandfather, whom he never met, would have his final resting place in his hometown of San Antonio.

“It’s an honor for him to come back home,” he said. “He’ll get the service he deserves. He’s going to get the service he never got when they found out he was missing.”

Mary Gibbons, a granddaughter of Sandoval’s, said she was happy that her father, Alejandro, and uncle, Frank Jr., got to see their father’s remains returned home.

“I feel it’s good that he (Frank Sandoval) gets to come home and be recognized for the sacrifice he made for this country,” Gibbons said.

Sandoval’s wife, Guadalupe, passed away last year before she got to see her husband returned home.

“I’m very sad my grandmother didn’t live to see it,” Gibbons said. “She missed it by a year.”

Sandoval was from a family of nine children that included six brothers and nine sisters. All of the brothers enlisted in the service at the same time during the Korean War. Sandoval was the only brother in the family who enlisted who did not return home.

Gibbons said members of the Sandoval family served in the military because they felt it was something they needed to do for their country.

“I think they felt it was their responsibility as American citizens to do this,” she said.

When Sandoval’s remains were identified, family members were able to get answers about the possible cause of his death and the process that led to the identification of his remains through a Department of Defense book given to them by an armed forces liaison who visited with them.

Gibbons said she learned that her grandfather died of malnutrition in the POW camp in North Korea.

Alex Sandoval II said he found the details in the DOD book about his grandfather to be informative, including where his grandfather served in Korea and what area his unit was deployed at.

“I’m a big military history buff,” he said. “The whole thing was full of information worth reading.”

There are still 7,741 American servicemembers who served in the Korean War who remain unaccounted for. With the use of modern technology, DPAA scientists are continuing to identify remains that were previously returned by North Korean officials or recovered in North Korea by American recovery teams.