When relatives learned that the remains of Korean War veteran Army Cpl. Arthur Contreras Ramirez were found, a roller coaster of emotions broke loose.
The Amphitheater High School student left Tucson at 18 and traveled to Phoenix to enlist in the Army, said his nephew, Arturo Mendoza, recalling the family stories.
At 19, Ramirez was a member of Battery B, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division.
He went missing in action against Chinese Communist Forces in Hagaru-ri, North Korea, near the Chosin Reservoir.
“We found out late last year that his remains were identified,” said Mendoza, 63, a retired AFL-CIO union organizer.
“We are very honored by him, and relieved that his remains have been found. He now can be given the proper recognition,” said Mendoza.
“There is a feeling of closure and great pride,” he said, adding that many relatives served in the armed services, including World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
“We also are very sad because he never had a chance to get married and have children. He missed all of that,” said his nephew.
Ramirez was reported missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950 when enemy forces attacked his unit, according to officials of the U.S. Defense Department. His remains could not be recovered following the attack.
“The Chosin Reservoir is where Chinese entered the Korean War,” said James Bell on Thursday. Bell is an identification specialist with the Army Human Resources Command at Fort Knox in Kentucky.
“It was an awful battle. The U.S. took a lot of losses, and a lot of soldiers were missing. U.S. forces were forced to withdraw from the Chinese forces, and remains stayed behind,” said Bell.
Ramirez was not among prisoners or remains returned to U.S. custody after the war, and the exact circumstances of his loss were unknown until 2018, officials said.
On July 27, 2018, following the summit between President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea turned over 55 boxes of remains of American service members killed during the Korean War, officials said.
Some of the returned remains were recovered from an area where Ramirez’s unit had fought the Chinese Communist Forces on the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir, according to records.
The remains arrived on Aug. 1, 2018 to a specialized unit of the Defense Department in Hawaii, and scientists using DNA identified Ramirez in September 2019 from among these remains, said officials.
Ramirez is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with the others missing from the Korean War. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Ramirez was born on March 12, 1931 in Superior, Arizona to Angelita and Francisco Ramirez. Francisco died when his son was a young boy, and Angelita remarried. Her husband Antonio Diaz eventually moved the family to Tucson’s northwest side, where he worked in farming and ranching.
Relatives found a letter that Ramirez wrote to his mother once he was in the Army telling her “he was doing OK, and that he just got paid. He promised he would send money home for her,” recalled Mendoza.
Two sisters, a brother, numerous cousins, nephews, nieces and family friends will await Ramirez’s return to Tucson. On March 19, the public is invited to attend a funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. at St. Augustine Cathedral, 192 S. Stone Ave.
Burial will follow at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Marana.
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