SCHUYLERVILLE, N.Y. – Major General Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York, joined New York Army National Guard Soldiers to salute a Korean War Soldier whose remains were finally laid to rest May 20 – 70 years after he fell in combat.
An Army National Guard Military Forces Honor Guard provided funeral honors and a firing party and two New York Army National Guard UH-60 helicopters conducted a flyover as Cpl. Clifford Johnson was buried at the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.
Johnson, who grew up in Valatie, New York, went missing in December 1950 near Hagaru-ri, North Korea during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He was assigned as a field wireman with the Headquarters Battery of the 57th Field Artillery Battalion.
Johnson’s remains were among those handed over to the United States by the North Korean government in 2018.
“Having a role in bringing home a fellow Soldier, missing in action for 70 years, is a tremendous honor and privilege for us,” said Shields, who met briefly with the Johnson family.
Johnson’s great-nephew, New York Army National Guard Maj. Tyler Lamire, a communications officer assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters in Troy, said the event was moving.
“It’s really meaningful for our entire family to see this kind of support and acknowledgment,” Lamire said, “I grew up unaware of his actions in Korea, only that he didn’t come home, but I know my mom and other members of the family never forgot his loss.”
A contingent of New York National Guard field artillery Soldiers also attended to pay respects to a fellow “redleg,” the branch nickname for their distinctive 19th-century red trouser uniforms.
“Showing up and offering our support is just the right thing to do,” said Col. Peter Mehling, the chief of staff for the 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters and a former field artillery battalion commander. “I’m honored to be here for the family and to pay tribute to this lost Soldier coming home.”
Clifford Johnson was born Oct. 22, 1930, and enlisted in the U.S. Army on Oct. 3, 1949. He was part of a military family, with eight of nine siblings serving in uniform.
The 57th Field Artillery Battalion was part of the 31st Regimental Combat Team in November 1950.
In the fall of 1950, United Nations forces had turned back the initial North Korean invasion of the South. Johnson and the 31st Regimental Combat Team had attacked north into North Korea to unify the Korean Peninsula.
The unit was on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir to secure the flanks of the advancing 7th and 5th Marine Corps Regiments before attacking toward the Manchurian border.
Johnson and 30,000 other U.N. troops were encircled and attacked by approximately 120,000 Chinese Peoples Volunteer Forces along the Yalu River on Nov. 27, 1950.
After an initial defensive fight, Johnson fought with the remnants of the 31st Regimental Combat Team, known as Task Force Faith, for Lt. Col. Don Faith, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, who led the force after the original commander was killed in action.
The task force fought off the Chinese 80th and 81st divisions before breaking out from its defensive positions on Dec. 1. Johnson was reported missing on Dec. 6.
“We are so thankful for the return of Clifford’s remains from Korea almost 71 years ago,” said Korean War veteran Paul O‘Keefe, the chaplain of Adirondack Chapter 60, Korean War Veterans. “We are sad but happy Clifford will soon be laid to rest in this hallowed ground.”
“I saw the newspaper story about identifying his remains and just had to reach out,” O’Keefe added. “I called the funeral home just this morning to ask how we could help in bringing him home. They were so excited to hear from me since they’d been calling all over trying to contact other Korean War veterans.
“May not be too many of us, but we’re still here,” O’Keefe said.
He was joined at the ceremony by fellow Korean War veteran Paul Nolan, vice commander of the Adirondack chapter.
The family had never really given up, Lamire said.
Johnson’s sister, Glorianna, who served as an Army nurse, kept up inquiries with the Department of Defense and spurred the family to continue to try finding out what happened to Cpl. Johnson.
The 57th Field Artillery Headquarters Battery morning report listed Johnson as missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950.
The 31st Regimental Combat lost 1,392 of its 1,777 Soldiers – missing in action, unrecovered killed, or prisoners of war.
Johnson's name did not appear on any prisoner of war lists after the battle, and no returning prisoners reported he had been captured. He was presumed dead on Dec. 31, 1953.
Johnson was a private first class at the time of his loss, but with his presumptive death in 1953, the Army promoted him to the grade of corporal.
The breakthrough for the family came in 2018.
The government of North Korea, following the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June 2018, released additional remains to the U.S. government on July 27, 2018.
On Aug. 1, 2018, 55 boxes of remains arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) Laboratory for analysis and possible identification.
To identify Johnson’s remains, scientists used anthropological analysis, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA analysis.
The DPAA used samples from Johnson’s brother, Norman, and sister, Clara Sanzo.
His remains were confirmed on April 16, 2020.
“I was deployed overseas when I got a call from my mom saying, 'They found Uncle Clifford,' ” Lamire said. “At first, I thought it couldn’t be real, that it must be a joke.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the family delayed the final return of remains until this year, after his redeployment.
The Reverend Samantha Perret from St Luke's Lutheran Church in Valatie offered prayers for Johnson’s funeral service in Valatie and then at the national cemetery.
“I’m so honored to be part of this service, to support this family with closure and see this hero come home,” Perret said.
Johnson's name was recorded on the Courts of the Missing in Honolulu, along with the others who are missing from the Korean War. A rosette will now be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.