Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pfc. Arthur Leiviska, missing for 61 years, comes home

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Battisfore details the account of Pfc. Arthur Leiviska, a Korean War soldier who was declared MIA for 61 years, before a Memorial Day burial at Lake View Cemetery near Calumet, Mich.
   A map of Pfc. Leiviska's patrol, in blue, and the area of ambush, in red.
   It was there when Mr. Leiviska was captured and marched to a POW

CALUMET, Mich. -- A tear streams down the cheek of James Moehrke as he stands next to the hole and coffin of his friend, Pfc. Arthur Leiviska, a Korean War soldier who was captured during a patrol in early 1951. Mr. Leiviska's remains were recently identified and transported here for burial.

"We went to the teen center," Moehrke said, pointing towards downtown Calumet a few miles away. "We used to chum around together in our teen years."

He said the burial ceremony of Mr. Leiviska on Memorial Day didn't bring any closure for himself.

James Moehrke.
"It was a war that we fought and we didn't accomplish anything," he said.

Mr. Moehrke said Mr. Leiviska volunteered.

"I knew that he wanted to join the service," he said.

Mr. Moehrke was drafted into the U.S. Army and arrived in Korea six months after Mr. Leiviska was captured. He said he was a part of Operation Glory, a mass exchange of military war dead and Operation Big Switch, a mass exchange of prisoners of war.

Mr. Moehrke said that because his papers were lost in Seoul, now South Korea's capital, he overstayed his deployment by 38 days.

Mr. Leiviska was officially declared missing on January 21, 1951, the day after a patrol he was a part of was attacked by elements of the North Korea People's Army, according to a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command report on Mr. Leiviska.

Mr. Leiviska was a private at the time. He was in L Company, 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Mr. Leiviska's remains landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport just after noon, May 26. On Memorial Day, Leiviska was laid to rest in Lake View Cemetery, six decades after he was officially declared missing in action by the U.S. military.

Mr. Leiviska's unit operated near Yangyon-ni, Republic of Korea. According to the JPAC report, Mr. Leiviska's patrol was two kilometers south of the 3/17 Inf. position when it engaged in a firefight with a "small group of NKPA soldiers with small arms and automatic weapons fire." The patrol advanced further south, to Ping-gol, where it was ambushed by a larger NKPA contingent. The patrol suffered 19 casualties before returning to friendly lines. Three survivors of the patrol reported later in the day at Yangyon-ni that Mr. Leiviska was missing.

The United Nations Command repeatedly requested the NKPA and Chinese People's Volunteer Forces to provide lists of American and allied servicemen held in their custody throughout the war. Mr. Leiviska was not on any prisoner of war list given by the NKPA or CPVF.

It was later found that Mr. Leiviska was captured and transported to the Suan Bean Prisoner of War camp complex in what is now the North Hwanghae Province, about 40 miles southeast of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. According to the report, Mr. Leiviska died on April 20, 1951 and was buried there. He was 18 years old.

"It has been 60 years since he went missing in action," said Melissa Huuki, whose mother was Mr. Leiviska's sister. "I am at peace knowing he is back home to rest in peace where he belongs."

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 7,900 Korean War soldiers are still unaccounted for. In total, nearly 390,000 people went missing during the war.

The Korean War was a full-scale military conflict that lasted for 3 years, 32 days. Since no peace treaty was signed along with the cease-fire agreement, the last 58 years have been regarded by some as a low-level war. Tensions between North and South Korea have come to light in the recent past.

Mrs. Huuki expressed her family's gratitude for finally receiving closure about her uncle.

"We heard about the positive match a week before Christmas, 2011," she said. "I wish my mother were here to celebrate with us."
The U.S. Army Honor Guard salutes the flag representing Pfc. Arthur Leiviska before presenting it to his family during his Memorial Day burial ceremony.

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