Thursday, June 01, 2017

TOP STORY >> Soldiers’ remains identified by DNA

Leader staff writer

Sixty-seven years after being declared missing in action, U.S. Army Pfc. Robert Elijah Mitchell of Garner is returning home. Mitchell’s remains were identified in March 2017 in Hawaii. His only living sibling, Beth Moore, was notified.

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” she said.

Moore was aware that DNA from remains found in South Korea were being tested. In May 2016, she was contacted by the U.S. Army Casualty Office of Past Conflict Registration.

“They asked if I would like for them to disinter the remains and test them again,” Moore said.
In March, she was contacted again.

“When they first told me he had been identified, it didn’t hit me at first,” she said. “It had been so long since he was missing. We had waited all this time. We weren’t actually sure. We had a memorial for him.”

Mitchell joined the Army in November 1949, but less than a year later, in September 1950, when he was just 19, he was declared missing in action in South Korea. Moore was just 16 years old at the time.

“His group was sent in as reinforcements and, when the battle was over, they couldn’t find him,” Moore said.

A South Korean farmer had buried Mitchell, along with other soldiers’ remains.

In July 1952, search teams from the U.S. recovered the remains of those buried by the farmer and moved them to the Punchbowl, the National Memorial Cemetery in Hawaii where remains of soldiers from locations around the Pacific Theater are buried.

The remains could not be identified at the time, and they were buried there. In 1998, two sets of remains were disinterred from the Punchbowl that were thought to be him, but weren’t.

Moore and family had held a memorial for Mitchell on what would have been his 85th birthday on Feb. 20, 2016. The family wanted to remember him and have a spot ready for when his remains are identified.

“My gravesite is there and there is a spot vacant next to it,” Adams said. “I always thought maybe they’d find him.”

She was right.

“It does bring some closure. As long as it had been, I really didn’t know if he would ever be identified. I pretty much accepted that,” she said. “We did put the memorial marker there and knew if and when he was identified, we could bring him back home and we would have a place to bury him.”

The Patriot Guard Riders were on hand to unveil a bronze VA marker in his honor.
Mitchell was remembered with full military honors and his sister was presented with a flag and various medals, including presentations from the Patriot Guard, Rolling Thunder and VFW, and a flag flown over the Capitol in Washington.

Now that he has been identified, the family is planning a funeral to officially inter Mitchell’s remains at 2 p.m. June 3 at Westbrook Funeral Home and Meadowbrook Memorial Gardens in Beebe.

Mitchell was born Feb. 20, 1931, in Polk County, to Rev. Marvin M. Mitchell and Bessie J. Mitchell, who raised cotton and corn.

The family moved to the Oakland Hill Community near Bradford in White County, where Mitchell attended school through the ninth grade. The family moved to Garner, where he graduated from high school on April 28, 1949.

Mitchell left behind his parents; six brothers, Bill, Charley, Sam, Joe, Edward and Edwin; one foster brother, Paul Latourette; three sisters, Bessie Black, Katie Brown, who have both passed, and Beth Mitchell Mason Adams; and many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.