The moment had been delayed more than 70 years.
But at long last, Sgt. Charles Garrigus Jr. has come home.
The Korean War veteran’s remains have been returned from North Korea and identified by the U.S. Department of Defense. Garrigus, who originally hailed from the small Indiana town of Francisco, will be buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Greenwood on March 10.
“To be honest, It’s pretty amazing,” said Will Garrigus, nephew to Charles Garrigus. “My dad, (Sgt. Garrigus’) surviving brothers are elderly themselves. They never thought they’d see this day after all this time.”
Garrigus joined the U.S. Army at the start of the Korean War and served in Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. On Dec. 1, 1950, he was reported missing in action during battle with enemy forces near the Chosin Reservoir, part of the brutal 17-day battle in freezing weather.
According to Garrigus’ citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, the 1st Battalion was in defensive positions on the eastern shore of the Chosin Reservoir, where they were subjected to numerous attacks by enemy forces, which greatly outnumbered them.
The battalion was ordered to withdraw the next morning, and the troops traveled about one mile over open road and across a bridge. Garrigus saw two loaded ammunition and ration trucks abandoned on the roadway and decided to return for them.
“After driving his vehicle to friendly lines, he dashed across about three hundred yards of open, snow-covered ice and, bringing one truck across, immediately returned for the other. The bullet-riddled second truck stalled as it entered the friendly perimeter but, due to SGT Garrigus’ quick thinking and action, the critical supplies were saved from the enemy,” according to the citation.
Following the battle, his remains could not be recovered, and there is no evidence that he was ever a prisoner of war. He was 24 years old.
Army officials posthumously awarded Garrigus the Distinguished Service Cross — the second-highest award given by the United States — for his heroic actions during the fighting. He also earned the Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea War Service Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation and Combat Infantryman Badge.
“As a kid, I didn’t know much about (his service.) My dad didn’t know much about the acts of heroism that he performed,” Will Garrigus said. “The story I was told all through childhood was that he was blown up in a truck; that was it. We didn’t hear much else about it.”
Along with thousands of other soldiers missing in action, his name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Members of his family never knew if they’d find closure regarding his death.
But hope emerged in 2018.
Following the summit between former President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea turned over 55 boxes purported to contain the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War. The remains were admitted into the laboratory of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii for identification.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency focuses on accounting for missing military personnel to the fullest degree possible. From the remains acquired in 2018, 88 U.S. veterans have been identified so far, said Dr. Veronica Keyes, forensic anthropologist for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and project lead for the Korean War ID Project.
Working with the remains turned over, scientists used a variety of anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence to determine these veterans’ identities. The process was a long and complicated one, as scientists used DNA submitted by Garrigus’ brother and sister to try and match with the remains. The forensic team used mitochondrial DNA, Y chromosome DNA and autosomal DNA analysis to narrow it down, Keyes said.
Considering the matches they found, the statistical comparisons made and that the remains came from the Chosin Reservoir area where Garrigus was missing in action, the examiners felt confident in the identification, she said.
Every time they do so is a victory, Keyes said.
“One of the things I like particularly about this work is that what I am doing has a direct impact on other people’s lives,” she said. “We are able to provide these answers for family members who have been waiting for 70 years in some cases to find out what happened to their loved ones, and to honor that promise that we will never stop looking for them and we will never forget them.”
On Aug. 2, 2022, Garrigus’ remains were accounted for by the agency. The family was made aware later in the year.
With much of Garrigus’ surviving family located in central Indiana, they opted to have him buried in Greenwood. He will be laid to rest in a plot his younger brother had purchased years prior.
Graveside services will be performed by Jones Family Mortuary of Mooresville, preceding the interment.
“It’s going to be gratifying for us,” Will Garrigus said.
IF YOU GO
Sgt. Charles Garrigus Jr. services
Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. March 9 and from 11 a.m.-noon on March 10 at Jones Crossing Banquet Center, 4161 E. Allison Road, Mooresville. A celebration of life service will be held at noon following visitation on March 10 at the banquet center.
Sgt. Garrigus Jr. will be laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memory Gardens in Greenwood.