By Staff Sgt. Samuel NorthrupFebruary 8, 2017
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- More than 66 years after he was lost while engaged in combat operations against North Korean forces, Cpl. Luis P. Torres, assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, was buried with full military honors during a reinterment ceremony at San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 13.
According to Carlos Mendoza, Torres' nephew, Torres remained unidentified until July 2016, when DNA testing provided positive identification of his remains, which were previously buried as "Unknown" at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
"Knowing that Cpl. Torres is finally home is a solemn reminder that we never forget a fallen comrade," said Lt. Col. Teddy Kleisner, Commander, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. "Our unit takes great pride in knowing that the efforts of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency made such closure possible for his family, and also for his comrades, past and present."
The Honorary Regimental Commander for 1-23 Infantry-Emeritus, retired Lt. Col. Emil J. Stryker, was a member of the "late Company C," as he calls it. He was heartened by the news that another one of his brothers was finally coming home.
"I know that Cpl. Torres' family is equally thankful to have his body reinterred in San Antonio," Stryker said.
Mendoza, a retired Army staff sergeant who served from 1974 to 1994, said he didn't know about his uncle until he was 30 years old. Mendoza has since learned about him by speaking to people who knew him.
"He was considered handsome and was well respected by his friends," Mendoza said. "He was a hardworking person that joined the family in working many farm fields to harvest fruits and vegetables."
Motivated to learn more about the uncle he never knew, Mendoza began his search to find Torres in 2005. Mendoza understood more about his uncle as his journey progressed.
According to a release from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Torres' battalion had its position overrun by enemy forces along the east bank of the Naktong River, South Korea on Sept. 1, 1950. During the attack, Torres was reported missing in action near Changyong, South Korea.
According to Stryker, Torres' company commander on the Naktong River line, Capt. Cyril S. Bartholdi (a descendant of Augustus Bartholdi, designer of the Statue of Liberty) was captured by North Koreans during the fighting on the fateful night Torres was killed in action.
Bartholdi was marched north by his captors, Stryker stated in a letter. They marched Bartholdi and others at night only and interrogated them by day. They eventually found out Bartholdi was the commander, executed him and left him in a mass grave of South Koreans. He was awarded the Silver Star and buried in The Dalles, Oregon.
Torres' name never appeared on a prisoner of war list, but one returning American prisoner of war reported that he believed Torres was held captive by the enemy and was executed, according to the DPAA. Due to the prolonged lack of evidence, the U.S. Army declared him deceased March 3, 1954.
On Dec. 20, 1950, a set of unidentified remains, previously recovered from a shallow grave near Changnyong, were buried in the Miryang United Nations Military Cemetery as "Unknown X-331." In February 1951, the remains were moved to the Tanggok United Nations Military Cemetery. Although Torres was considered a candidate for identification, the remains were not identified due to a lack of substantiating evidence. The remains were then moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu and buried as "Unknown."
On May 16, 2016, the remains were disinterred and sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis.
To identify Torres' remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial and anthropological evidence, as well as DNA analysis, including mitochondrial DNA analysis through the Next Generation Sequencing technique, which matched a brother, a sister and a nephew.
"I had mixed emotions and broke down crying," Mendoza said. "I had to notify my mother, who was visiting my little brother. I asked my brother to be with to her for support. I asked to put the call on speaker so they all -- my mother, brother, wife and son -- could hear my message. They were all emotionally excited."
Today, 7,764 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the DPAA, which continues to employ advances in technology to identify remains that were previously turned over by North Korean officials or recovered by American teams.
More than 82,000 Americans remain missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. For those service members killed in action, the DPAA community is charged with locating, recovering and identifying their remains.
In memory of his late uncle, Mendoza penned a poem, "Remembering the Fallen," which is available as a PDF file in the related links below.