Nearly 70 years after he was killed in the Korean War, U.S. Army Corporal Luis Torres of Eagle Pass, Texas, was officially laid to rest.
The 20-year-old went missing on September 1, 1950, when his infantry division was surrounded by enemy soldiers along the east bank of South Korea's Naktong River. He was reported missing in action, and a prisoner of war who returned to the states later said he believed Torres was held captive and subsequently executed. He was declared dead on March 3, 1954.
But on January 6, the Department of Defense's POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which tracks missing and unaccounted-for members of the military — of whom there are nearly 83,000 — issued a bittersweet announcement: Using mitochondrial DNA analysis, a set of unidentified remains recovered "from a shallow grave near Changnyong" were matched to Torres's brother, sister and nephew. The remains were "returned to his family for burial, with full military honors."
Formed in 2015 in the wake of a scandal that revealed that a predecessor agency, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, had been fudging recovery statistics and holding bogus "arrival ceremonies," the Accounting Agency has been trying to do right by soldiers like Torres, as well as the American public.
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The amount of work that has yet to be done is staggering: For the Korean War alone, there are 431 Texas military personnel whose remains have not been recovered — soldiers like Chester Darwin Quider of Houston, a technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, who flew in a B-26 and went missing in action on October 19, 1950. A total of 7,764 Americans who served in the Korean War remain unaccounted for.
The list of Texans unaccounted for from Vietnam is shorter — 103 — but is perhaps more harrowing in its details. It includes three men who died in captivity and whose remains were not returned, as well as a Houston defense contractor, and former Air Force mechanic, who went missing in May 1970 after what was supposed to have been a quick trip to a village a few miles north of the military base where he was working. In all, 1,611 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
The Texas list for World War II is also astounding — 3,660 unrecovered, including 82 souls who were aboard the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. In all, the remains of 73,119 WWII personnel are still unrecovered.
The agency's resources are impressive, and the site includes an interactive map that allows users to search by state, war or military branch. It brings into sharp relief the proportion of loss, and the amount of work that still must be done to truly bring these Americans home.