April 19, 2014

Elyria
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Family grateful remains of Korean War vet, long missing, have returned

The continuous efforts of military scientists are what ultimately led to the return of a Hinckley Township Marine who died in 1950 in a battle in North Korea.

Cpl. Clarence H. Huff Jr. — better known as “Bud” — was 20 when he was reported killed in action on Dec. 2, 1950, during the battle at Chosin Reservoir. He was a member of the Item Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

His body was returned to the United States four years later during an exchange of remains of war dead, and he was buried with hundreds of other unidentified servicemen in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

He rested there for nearly 62 years while his family — including his sister, Elyria resident Rita Tanner — never gave up hope that he might someday come home.

“In 60-some years, we thought about him being in North Korea,” his brother, Richard Huff, told the Medina Gazette earlier this year. “It was quite a relief to know he’s not over (in North Korea) anymore.”

Robert Huff, 66, and Richard Huff, 79, didn’t learn that there was a good chance their brother’s body was buried in Hawaii until they attended a meeting several years ago at the Defense Department’s Joint Prisoner of War Missing in Action Account Command. It was the kind of news for which their mother had always hoped.

“My mom waited and waited for this and unfortunately she died in 2002,” Robert Huff said.

Forensic sleuthing

Scientists in the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command Central Identification Laboratory engaged new technology to conclusively identify Huff’s remains, which paved the way for his return to Ohio.

The men and women who work for the laboratory are the unsung heroes of the military.

But their work was done quietly and diligently until they allowed CNN reporters inside their laboratory at the site of the infamous Pearl Harbor attack.

The online article that appeared in January after the visit gives a look into the work of the more than 30 forensic anthropologists, archaeologists and dentists.

Dr. Robert Mann, a forensic anthropologist at CIL and head of the forensic science academy, called the work “daunting” in the CNN article.

“It’s incredibly complicated,” he said. “It goes to the peaks of the Himalayas, it goes to the jungles of Southeast Asia. It goes to the oceans of the Pacific. So from the highest point to the lowest point on the Earth, we’re looking for missing Americans.”

Americans like Huff.

In a binder, Huff’s sister, Rita Tanner, wife of Elyria City Councilman Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward, keeps close at hand, the identification work is chronicled in great detail.

There are photos of Huff’s dental remains, several chest X-rays as well as his skeleton — although several bones, including his hyoid, right femur and some vertebra, ribs and hand and foot bones were never found.

There also were photos of his dog tags, corroded in some areas and his cloth personal effects bag, which was torn and tattered when it found decades ago.

Understandably, Tanner said this Veterans Day has much more significance for her family because it’s the first one she can celebrate knowing  where her older brother is resting.

“Even today, I look on the Internet and see the names of hundreds of soldiers who never came home, like Bud did, and to their families I would say, ‘Don’t give up hope,’ ” she said. “Look what happened to us. There is always a chance they will come home.”

Death, return

The story of Huff’s death is told in a very factual way within the documents Tanner shared.

The young Marine died from a gunshot or shrapnel wound. His body was buried near the village of Yudamn-ni.

In September 1954, Chinese forces returned 25 boxes of remains recovered in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir — 19 of which were later identified as the remains of Marines killed in that battle.

However, the remains in the other boxes could not be identified in 1954 and they were buried with their identities unknown.

Earlier this year, the remains were exhumed for reanalysis, and anthropologists matched several points on a series of chest X-rays taken before Huff enlisted and after his death.

But the chest X-rays were not the only tests scientists performed — a more conclusive match was needed. According to the identification record, the CIL staff also compared dental records.

However, mitochondrial DNA analysis — the most common used in FBI laboratories for identification — could not be used to identify Huff.

“To date, no Korean Ward unknown remained exhumed from the NMCP have yielded verifiable mtDNA sequence data,” Huff’s identification record explained. “The presence of embalming chemicals on remains from this era is the suspected reason.”

The final pages of the report illustrate how the military had long hoped to identify him.

There, a copy of a handwritten letter from Huff’s mother is enclosed. She appears to have written the letter in response to a request for information about Huff’s medical history from a military official in Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Huff said she couldn’t help the military when she penned the letter in July 1955 — her son had rarely been to the doctor or dentist before enlisting.

Bud Huff was born in 1930 and grew up in Hinckley Township with his eight siblings. He graduated from Hinckley High School in 1948.

According to his obituary, he played basketball in his school and loved to go horseback riding. He played baseball for a Hinckley team and was a member of the Hinckley Volunteer Fire Department.

Huff was buried in the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman with full military honors in mid-August.

Standing on the green lawn of the cemetery just a stone’s throw from her brother’s grave among white tombstones bearing the names of other military casualties was a surreal feeling, Rita Tanner said.

She was just 9 when her older brother left for military service. He died a month after her 10th birthday.

“I don’t remember a whole lot about him. My mother kept his photos and Purple Heart until the day she died, and she always wondered where he was,” she said. “We lived day by day and you get kind of used to it and live with it. But the day we were at the airport and they took his casket off the plane was when it hit it. He actually came home.”

For Veterans Day, Tanner said the family will visit Huff’s grave and lay a wreath beside his tombstone. It’s the first time they have ever been able to do so.

“Now, there is closure for the family at least,” she said.

Huff is survived by his siblings, Richard, Barbara (Joseph) Buehner, Rita (Larry) Tanner, Ronald (Sharon) and Robert (Jacki) as well as many loving nieces, great-nieces, nephews, great-nephews and extended family.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.