RIDGEFIELD (Tribune News Service) — Sixty-five years after he died in North Korea, Billy Butz is finally coming home.
“He’s been MIA all this time,” said Gary Hein, the soldier’s brother-in-law.
The 18-year-old Vancouver man was killed in 1950 during fighting around the Chosin Reservoir, and he was listed as missing in action — MIA.
As the Heins would learn, the remains of their soldier had been in American hands since 1954, but were designated only as X-15726.
The Heins knew that Butz was among the missing service personnel the Department of Defense had been hoping to identify.
“I provided DNA,” said Betty Hein, but testing didn’t produce any answers about her brother.
Then on Friday, the Department of Defense announced that investigators had identified the remains of Pfc. William R. Butz.
The Ridgefield couple were notified of the identification in April, so Friday’s news didn’t take them by surprise.
“They asked us how we wanted to do everything,” Gary Hein said.
The remains of Pfc. Butz will arrive on Tuesday and will be taken to Vancouver Funeral Chapel.
There will be a grave-side service with full military honors at 11 a.m. on Friday at Evergreen Memorial Gardens, in the Arlington West section.
There were seven children in her family, Betty Hein said, but Billy was the one she was closest to.
“We were together all the time,” Betty, 85, said Friday afternoon. “We were the closest in age.”
Gary Hein met Betty in 1965, so he never knew Billy. But as an Army veteran himself, Gary always wondered what had happened to Betty’s brother.
“He was trained at the same place I was, Fort Ord.”
According to the news release, Butz was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. They were holding an area known as the inlet, near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.
“The first attack was on Nov. 27,” Gary Hein said, and he figures Butz would have been killed on Nov. 28, 29 or 30. “I’ve wondered how far he made it.”
Butz was reported as missing in action on Dec. 12. There was a lag because U.S. forces “had to fight all the way to the coast,” Gary Hein said.
A military review board amended his status to deceased in 1953, according to the news release from the POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
A year later, the two sides exchanged the remains of war dead. Remains of U.S. troops were turned over to an Army identification unit. Unidentified remains were buried as unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, known as the Punchbowl.
In 1999, with updated technology, investigators began to take another look at some of the unknowns. The remains designated X-15726 were exhumed on Dec. 7, 2015, for further analysis.
Scientists used dental records and chest X-rays that had been taken in March 1950 to identify Butz, then notified the soldier’s family.
“I didn’t know his remains were in Hawaii until April,” Gary Hein said. “I thought he’d be somewhere around Chosin.”
©2016 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)
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