Family prepares to bury Kentucky serviceman after DNA identification of the Korean War POW

kward1@herald-leader.comJune 15, 2014 

Sgt. Paul M. Gordon died at 20 in a North Korean POW camp.

Sgt. Paul M. Gordon was a farm boy from Dry Ridge, a top-notch basketball player who dreamed of one day going to Alaska to pan for gold.

He graduated from Crittenden High School when he was 16 and joined the Army soon after, in January 1949.

Gordon was 20 and serving in the Korean War when he died in June 1951 in a prisoner of war camp.

For decades, his family wondered about his fate.

"None of us really knew what happened to him," said nephew Tony Gayhart of Burlington.

Now they do, and on Tuesday, Gordon's remains will be brought to the United States, and he will be buried Friday at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North in Williamstown.

His remains were identified through DNA testing.

Gayhart was born two years after his Uncle Paul's disappearance, but Gayhart remembers paging through a scrapbook his grandmother always kept on the library table in the living room when he was a boy.

The story of his lost uncle "just tugged at my heart ever since I was a little bitty kid," he said.

A newspaper clipping dated Oct. 13, 1950, tells of an incident in which Gordon, then 19, was awarded a medal for rescuing a 3-year-old Korean girl who had wandered onto the battlefield.

"He took her to safety, fed her his C rations and hid her in his foxhole until he could turn her in at headquarters," the article stated.

Gordon was deployed in the vicinity of Wonju, South Korea, and was assigned to Company H, 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division when he was listed as missing in action after a battle Jan. 7, 1951, according to a news release from the Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office.

He was captured by the Chinese during the battle and taken to a POW camp, where he died in June 1951, according to fellow prisoners who were returned to the States in September 1953 as part of a prisoner exchange called Operation Big Switch.

From 1991 to 1994, North Korea gave the United States 208 boxes of human remains thought to belong to 350 to 400 servicemen who fought in the Korean War, according to the release.

Based on North Korean documents that accompanied them, some of the remains were thought to have been recovered from a POW camp in North Hwanghae Province, near the area where Gordon was thought to have died.

Two types of DNA, taken from Gordon's sister and brother, as well as other evidence, was used by scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory to identify Gordon's remains.

Gayhart said most members of Gordon's family — including his two brothers and one of his sisters — died without knowing his remains had been found.

One of Gordon's brothers died just before the family got the call that the remains had been identified.

Gayhart said his other uncle, Aurtha Ray Gordon, was instrumental in pushing for answers from the military.

"He served in World War II, and he always felt guilty that Uncle Paul never came home," he said. "He went to his grave not knowing what happened."

Aurtha Gordon died in 2010. He told the Herald-Leader in 1999, in a story about searching for relatives of missing servicemen to obtain DNA for possible identifications, that the pain of not knowing still lingered after almost 50 years.

"It is just something that leaves a void you just can't close," Aurtha Gordon said.

Gayhart said his mother, Dorothy Gordon Gayhart, was "happy and sad" about the return of Paul Gordon.

"She's happy that her brother is finally coming home," he said, "but she's sad that it's happening this way."

The Defense Department says 7,883 Americans who served in the Korean War remain unaccounted for, but identifications continue to be made through the use of technology.

Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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