Korean War POW gets final salute
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Sixty-four years after being declared dead at Valley Number One POW Camp in North Korea, Army Sgt. Floyd J.R. Jackson was returned home to full military honors courtesy of Fort Carson.
Coordinated through the Fort Carson Casualty Assistance Center, 20 Soldiers from 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, honored the Korean War hero and his Family with planeside honors at Denver International Airport March 5, 2015. They then served as pallbearers and a firing detail at his memorial service March 7, 2015, at Olinger Chapel Hill Mortuary and Cemetery in Centennial.
"As a veteran, it is an honor to know that a Soldier that we have lost 50-60 years ago, and in some cases 70 years ago, finally can come home and his Family can lay him to rest … it's an honor," said Zita Ephron, mortuary affairs coordinator, Fort Carson Casualty Assistance Center (CAC). "We just make sure that the Soldier comes home."
Jackson, who served with Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, was missing in action after the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and declared dead Feb. 3, 1951.
DNA evidence confirmed Jackson's identification in September and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command transferred the case to the Fort Carson CAC, which is responsible for a five-state area. The CAC coordinated the arrival of the remains, assigned a casualty assistance officer (CAO) to assist the Jackson Family and work with the funeral home and arranged an honors team.
Caring for Family
Sgt. 1st Class Abel Carrillo said he was notified in February that he was selected to serve as the Jackson Family CAO. He recalled thinking it would be interesting and a privilege to assist the Family in this special time in their lives.
"I was sure (the experience) would help bring closure to the Family," he said.
He joined Michael J. Mee, chief of identifications, Past Conflict Repatriations Branch, Fort Knox, Kentucky, to officially notify the Family of the process leading up to the funeral.
Then Carrillo became the face of the military for the Family, assisting them in completing disposition forms and working contracts with the funeral home to ensure the Family's desires were met.
"From that point on I remained in contact with the Family, keeping them up to date, getting information and helping them set up the funeral arrangements," Carrillo said.
Full military honors
Jackson's repatriated remains arrived in Colorado in the early morning hours March 5, 2015.
As the Jackson Family waited on the Denver International Airport tarmac, they got the first glimpse of the casket as it emerged from the ramp of the airplane.
Eight Fort Carson Soldiers served as pallbearers as the detail NCO trailed, calling out commands until the casket was securely loaded in a hearse for transport to the funeral home, awaiting the funeral service.
Staff Sgt. Benjamin K. Romiti, NCO in charge of the detail, recalled the events of March 7, 2015, as his team helped lay Jackson to rest.
He said a team of nine Soldiers walked alongside the horse-drawn caisson as it carried Jackson's remains from the chapel to his burial site.
"We provided full military honors once the horse-drawn caisson stopped," he said.
The pallbearer Soldiers made facing movements, pulled the casket from the caisson, walked it in a straight line before setting it on the lowering device, he said. They stood by the casket while the chaplain conducted services and the national anthem played. In unison, the pallbearers pulled the U.S. flag off the casket and held it tight as the firing detail fired volleys.
Taps played, the firing party presented honors as the pallbearer team folded the flag. 1st Lt. Joey Zarella, officer in harge of the detail, presented the flag to Jackson's niece, Joanna Mueller. The pallbearers and firing party marched a few feet away as the ceremony concluded. The group waited until the Family left the burial site before departing.
Romiti said his team of Soldiers will not forget this experience.
"On behalf of my Soldiers, my team, being that we are infantrymen, our normal everyday job is not an honor guard type detail, (but) it was the most honorable thing we probably could do," he said.
The Jackson "story is one of 250,000 that never got to come back, never got closure. The (Jackson) Family got that closure, and that's an amazing thing. We were extremely honored and touched to provide them with the best honors that we could for their loved one," said Romiti.
But it was not easy for Soldiers who have lost brothers in battle.
"It was hard to do," he said. "If you've deployed and lost battle buddies, you know exactly what the volleys sound like, you know what the flag being presented to the loved ones feels like. It's a hard thing to conduct, but you rely on your training and drilling constantly, and you provide the Family the best honors you can. It was pretty amazing to say the least."