USARPAC top NCO brings uncle's remains home
December 5, 2011
- "It's truly an honor for my family to ask me to bring the remains of my uncle home."
- "My aunt, Ruth Gaitan, has been waiting 60 years for her husband."
- Escorts have to complete computer based training and meet with a mortuary affairs officer.
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii (Dec. 5, 2011) -- The journey has taken more than six decades. A Korean War prisoner of war Pfc. Jimmie Gaitan's remains were escorted home to his family Nov. 22 by his nephew, U.S. Army Pacific's top noncommissioned officer Command Sgt. Maj. Frank M. Leota.
Leota's family received the call from the U.S. Army's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, just days after Leota and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III visited JPAC, located on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
"We were given a detailed brief at JPAC on how the remains were identified and were told that in the next 48 hours, 19 families would be notified that their loved ones have been found," said Leota.
"JPAC has been able to make an identification of a lost family member every two and a half days," said Steve Thompson, external relations officer. "More than 1,743 members have been returned to their families thus far, Leota's uncle being among them."
"Within 48 hours my phone was ringing off the hook at 3 a.m. in the morning and it was my cousin. He said,' Uncle Jimmie has been found,'" said Leota.
Gaitan was a medic assigned to the Clearing Company, 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, when he was taken prisoner while tending to his wounded comrades in South Korea on Feb. 13, 1951. He died while in prison on May 24, 1951.
"My aunt, Ruth Gaitan, has been waiting 60 years for her husband," Leota said." She's 83 years old. They were married for only a short time before he left for Korea, now she's waiting for me to bring him home."
"It's truly an honor for my family to ask me to bring the remains of my uncle home," he added.
Escorts have to complete computer based training and meet with a mortuary affairs officer who will provide them the latest details concerning their mission, said Terrence Hudson, director of human resources.
On Nov. 22, Leota went to JPAC/MIA and received custody of his uncle's remains and secured them in a green blanket, a tradition that dates back to the Civil War.
The remains were then sent to a local mortuary where they were placed in a coffin. Leota accompanied the remains from the mortuary to the aircraft.
The military escort must ensure that the remains are loaded on the plane prior to boarding. The escort is usually the last passenger to enter the aircraft and the first to exit, said Thompson.
Leota escorted the remains of his uncle from Honolulu International Airport Nov. 22, to San Antonio, Texas, where Gaitan was buried with full military honors Nov. 26, at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
For his service to the Army Medical Department on the front line under tremendous hardships, on Nov. 17, Gaitan was posthumously inducted into the Order of Military Medical Medal of Merit as an honorary member by Brig. Gen. Keith W. Gallagher, commander of Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii.
"Thanks to the efforts of those who've worked tirelessly to identify my uncle, one more family finally has answers and one more American can finally come home," said Leota.