Four volunteers reported for duty hours before dawn this morning at Los Angeles International Airport’s Bob Hope Hollywood USO to greet the remains of a fallen soldier.
As the flag-draped coffin containing the remains of Army Pfc. Roosevelt “Jack” Clark slowly rolled from the rear of the plane, his family could hardly contain their joy to finally bring him home.
It’s not that they’re happy he died. His family’s grief has lasted nearly 62 years. Clark was first reported missing-in-action while fighting with the 35th Infantry Regiment in North Korea in 1950. He was just 18.
His remains were recently identified among 208 boxes of human remains turned over to the United States by North Korea in the early 1990s. It was determined that he had died just three days before he was reported missing, when his position was overwhelmed by elements of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces.
“A dignified transfer is usually a very somber event,” said Bob Kurkjian, executive director of USO Greater Los Angeles Area. “We are always there to support families of the fallen, but this time was different.”
The USO is committed to supporting families of the fallen through our centers and partnerships with airport and service honor guards, as well as organizations such as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). USO staff and volunteers provide comfort for family members along the journey to the final resting place of the service member.
“This was the celebration of a soldier’s return home,” added Kurkjian. “We helped bring his family the closure they haven’t had for decades.”
Two of Clark’s cousins and his great-niece were there — alongside USO volunteers, airport police and firefighters — to welcome Clark’s remains.
“It’s a closure for us,” his cousin, Rennie Hunter, told KABC-TV. The hardest part about having a family member go missing, she said, is that “you just never know what had happened or if they will ever come back home.”
Clark grew up close to his cousins in rural Arvin, located just southeast of Bakersfield, Calif., and though it was his mother’s lifelong dream for Clark to return home, neither of his parents lived to see it.
Clark’s remains will be buried Friday in Bakersfield, KTLA-TV reported.
Questions about the USO’s support for families of the fallen can be directed to Wendy Fish, Families of the Fallen Support program manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org. - Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer