After 66 years, soldier is laid to rest in his hometown
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Sixty-six years, eight months and twenty-six days.
That's a long time to wait for anything. It's exactly how long it took one local family to bring back PFC Everett Eugene Johnson, who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Having to say goodbye to someone you love is never easy, but imagine never having that chance. "The saddest part of all this is none of his brothers or sisters, none of, his mom nor his dad ever got the opportunity to see a casket."
From the Korean War alone, there are still more than seven thousand American soldiers unaccounted for. Soldiers without names and families without closure.
Everett Eugene Johnson grew up on Auburn Avenue in Cincinnati. The third oldest son of his mother, Lena, and father, Edwin, he was one of 11 kids. A student at Woodward High School, he enlisted in the army in 1948.
It was at the Silverton train station where his family said their goodbyes, never knowing it would be their last.
Assigned to the First Cavalry Division stationed in Japan, a surprise attack from the North Koreans in South Korea in June of 1950 would send Gene Johnson into battle in Taegu, South Korea. "He went from a relatively simple occupation soldier to a frontline combat soldier in a matter of days."
"My uncle's company straddled the roadway which was the major access advance of the North Koreans and in preparation of their advance to try to break through the Pusan Perimeter, kick the US and UN forces off the peninsula they absolutely peppered that area with artillery," recounted Gene's nephew Tony Cotto.
"He went from that very positive cultural experience in Japan to death tugging at his elbow every day and eventually death came knocking and took him." It took him on September 3, 1950 alongside several others. Gene was deemed identifiable and buried in a temporary grave in Korea.
"For the next four years they tried to make an identification of my Uncle and were not able to," said Tony. "The only evidence they had of my uncle was a canteen cup with his initials etched in, his first initial and Johnson.
That wasn't enough for the Army to identify him. Due to the fact that there were more than 80 other unresolved casualties, his body was eventually sent to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii known only as Unknown X-1072. "They buried him with full military honors as an unknown and there he rested for over 66 years in an unknown grave."
"As we went through the years I just assumed based on the horrific nature of the battle and the way it was explained to me that we would never find my uncle." Tony never had the pleasure of meeting him. Neither did his cousin, Pam Thomas.
Gene's mother, Lena, always held onto hope. "I don't think a Mother's love ever ends, and I don't think that they ever get over it."
Lena gave up her gravesite next to her husband, just in case. "She wanted to be buried somewhere else, she wanted to keep that grave in case they ever brought Gene home. They never got closure, he never came back."
Her family's love for an uncle she never knew spurred Pam to keep up the fight. That would pay off once she discovered a report about that canteen cup. She petitioned the government in June of 2014 to have his body exhumed.
Over the years, as other members of Gene's unit were identified, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency decided there was a greater chance of identifying the remains of Unknown X-1072.
Two years later in 2016, a clavicle bone from Unknown X-1072's skeletal remains matched a chest x-ray from Gene Johnson's medical exams at basic training in Breckenridge, Kentucky.
X-1072, an unknown soldier who served in the forgotten war, was given back his name, Private First Class Everett Eugene Johnson. "I didn't know him, but I feel like I knew him. Yeah, all those years hearing those stories right."
Almost a year after being identified, he's home. "He'll rest now next to my grandfather for all of eternity and I get choked up thinking about that."