Korean War soldier's remains finally returning to Southern Arizona for burial
The remains of Army Pvt. Felix M. Yanez, a soldier killed in the Korean War in 1950, will be returning home to Southern Arizona in September after he lay unidentified for more than seven decades.
The Douglas, Ariz., native, just 19 years old when he died, will be buried in Tucson’s South Lawn Cemetery on September 3. Yanez will be laid to rest near his parents in a service attended by his two surviving sisters, Lupe Salazar and Connie Cintron, and family he never had the chance to meet.
Last month, nearly 72 years to the day that Yanez died, his niece Tammi Shreeve received a call that he had finally been identified. The news was met with tears of joy, Shreeve said, and a sense of closure.
“It was just such a happy feeling that this was going to actually happen in my mom's lifetime, in my aunt’s lifetime,” she told the Tucson Sentinel. “It's something that you finally get closure, it's just hard to even find the right words for it to have that closure.”
Shreeve’s mother, Lupe Salazar, told her many stories about her uncle growing up, with memories of him kept alive in part by a flag adorned with his medals on display in their home. Her mother, 11 years old at the time of her brother’s death, still remembers the day the military informed her family of their immense loss.
Yanez, a member of the 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, was killed in action on July 16, 1950, north of Taejon, South Korea, during combat with the North Korean People’s Army, according to a news release from the U.S. Army Human Resources Command this week. Eight months later, his unidentified remains were recovered and buried in the United Nations Cemetery in Korea.
A farmer had found Yanez in a truck with other remains, Shreeve said. A theory is that locals had been collecting bodies of those killed and placing them in the vehicle, she said.
Still unidentified, Yanez and 847 other unknown troops were moved to Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in 1956. Yanez was disinterred in 2019 as part of continued efforts by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The identification came on July 13 based on a chest X-ray comparison and DNA analysis, among other methods, the release said. Shreeve is one of four family members who had submitted DNA to help in the effort.
For about 10 years, Shreeve has attended annual seminars put on by the DPAA for family members of those killed, missing or taken prisoner during war. She attended another one a few days after her uncle had been identifited.
“And I stood up, and I told everybody that they just found his remains,” Shreeve said. “And I had a lot of people come up to me afterward saying ‘Thank you, it gave me so much hope that I’m not going to give up until I die.’”
Thousands of Americans remain unidentified from the Korean War, which saw more than 33,000 U.S. servicemembers killed in battle between 1950 and 1953. Today, more than 7,500 Americans are still missing from the war, according to Army.
The September 3 service will bring family and friends together to bury a man who has been away for decades.
“It's really bringing a lot of the family together that didn't know about each other,” Shreeve said. “So we expect (a service) probably a little bit bigger than we anticipated.”