Korean War victim ID'd after 62 years: Burial Wednesday at Arlington
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Sixty-two years after he was killed in the early days of the Korean War, Pvt. Richard Erwin Clapp will be getting the military funeral he deserves.
Clapp, whose sister and niece live in the Senoia area, will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday with military honors.
Clapp was marked as X-51 of 867 unknowns.
A few months ago, Clapp’s sister, Beverly Chase, received word the Army had identified her brother’s remains, which had been buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, better known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Chase remembers distinctly that day in 1950 when she came home from school to find a telegram on the kitchen table. She was 16.
The telegram said that her brother had been killed but that his body could not be identified.
The bodies of those killed in the battle were originally buried in Korea. They were then disinterred and taken to Japan, where they were embalmed in an attempt to preserve them so that they eventually could be identified.
The remains were later taken to Hawaii, where they were buried as unknown soldiers.
“We didn’t have a great deal of information until about two years ago,” Chase said.
That’s when the Army “got in touch with me and said they were trying to identify remains that are in the Punchbowl,” Chase said.
Chase’s daughter, Vicki Boone, had been doing some family history research on the Internet, trying to put together a family tree.
“Somebody must have detected it at that point,” Chase said. They contacted Boone and asked if she were related to Pvt. Clapp. Boone and Chase were asked to send in DNA swabs.
But, as it turned out, the embalming work done in Japan had “ruined the DNA, so they weren’t able to use our DNA to make the identification,” Chase said.
The definitive identification was finally made by comparing MRIs of the remains with X-rays taken prior to Clapp’s deployment, and because of Clapp’s broken tooth.
Clapp had broken a tooth in a bicycle accident when he was around 12 years old, Chase said. Her father had sent the Army that information shortly after Clapp’s death, when they were originally trying to identify his body.
The identification work was done by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Central Identification Laboratory, located at Hickman Air Force Base in Hawaii.
Chase and her mother, who is now decreased, once visited the Punchbowl cemetery, and saw Clapp’s name listed as one of the unknown soldiers.
“It’s quite an amazing thing to our family, after all of these years,” to finally have her brother’s remains identified, Chase said.
“I think it will be wonderful closure,” she said. “While we’re honoring him, we’re really honoring all of the veterans who have been lost,” she said. “I’ve always felt very patriotic about my country. I think it is an honor to be able to go to his service.”
“I’m sorry that my parents aren’t here, but I think they would be pleased that the thing was finally coming to a conclusion,” she said.
Chase said no memorial was ever held for her brother. But at her parents’ crypt in Seattle, there is an urn with his name on it.
Not knowing all those years was a very hard thing.
“It was an excruciating time for my family. Very, very difficult,” Chase said. “It was especially difficult because the U.S. hadn’t declared war in Korea” yet. “It was a police action,” she said.
“It was in the early part of the war, when they were not well-equipped, and had just gone in.”
Things got worse a few months later when Chase’s 12-year-old brother died of a ruptured heart. “It was all too much,” she said. But “we all made it through.”
Chase visited South Korea in 1989 on a Youth With a Mission trip.
“I was highly impressed with the freedom there, and the Christianity that had grown in that country,” she said. “It made me feel proud that my brother had been part of keeping them free.”
She visited the demilitarized zone, and one night the group stayed “almost on the border of North Korea and South Korea.”
“I just had a very ominous feeling. When you think of how North Korea is so very very closed, and South Korea is so very open. It’s just an amazing difference,” she said.
The trip to Korea was a very healing experience for Chase.
“I just was so grateful to see that his death had amounted to something, that it keep them free,” she said.
Chase is from Seattle, Wash. Her daughter and son-in-law, Julie and Scott Johnson, have lived in the Senoia area for about 12 years. Chase came to live with them in December.
She’ll only be a temporary Coweta resident. She plans on moving back to Washington to live with Boone.
Clapp was 19 1/2 when he deployed to Korea. When he joined the Army, he didn’t know a war with Korea was brewing, Chase said. But “he was there, ready to go.”
The Army has been “really wonderful about all the details and taking care of this and setting up the Arlington service to be a full military service — which will be pretty awesome to me,” Chase said.
Chase’s granddaughter, Katie Boone, who serves in the Navy, will accompany her uncle’s remains from Hawaii to Arlington.
“We felt it was really an honor to be buried in Arlington,” Chase said. “We asked if that was possible, and they said yes.”
The Army is even paying for Chase to fly to Washington, D.C., and for a three-day hotel stay.
“The Army has been so wonderful,” she said. “They gave me a folder with photo copies of all the stuff that they had over the years” regarding Clapp, she said.
“So I could see my dad’s letter, with his little drawing of how my brother’s tooth was broken,” she said. “It was really pretty fascinating” to see it “all these years later,” she said.
Chase’s parents and all her siblings are deceased, but there will be plenty of cousins, other relatives, and friends at the funeral.
“It’s amazing how I’ve had relatives come out of the woodwork, almost,” she said. “They all want to be there.”
There will even be a representative of the Korean government, she said.
“It has just turned into a much bigger thing than I had ever expected. It really is quite amazing, especially all these years later,” she said.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet thing,” she said.
“But it is wonderful to know that we have closure – there are still so many of them unidentified,” she said. She feels so fortunate that her brother is no longer one of them.