OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb., –
Following 68 years of uncertainty for the Mills’ family, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kenneth Henson, U.S. Strategic Command cyber network operator, helped bring them closure Nov. 10, 2018, by providing a special escort for his grand uncle-in-law, U.S. Army Cpl. Albert Mills.
Mills, who was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, during the Korean War, was listed missing in action following fighting that occurred with enemy forces during the Battle of Yongdong on July 25, 1950. His unit’s mission was to protect the village of Yongdong from the Korean People’s Army and prevent their advancement along the main corridor, which linked the cities of Taejon and Taegu.
Taejon, by this time was nearly in communist possession, and the KPA was proceeding to capture Taegu, which would create a large opening for the KPA to drive through to the Port of Pusan, and effectively end the war. The port was instrumental in resupplying United Nations troops and equipment to support the defense of the Republic of Korea. During the three day battle, the 5th Cavalry suffered 275 casualties and only had 26 men return.
Following identification of the remains, the Army contacted Henson, who is the only active-duty member of Mills’ family. The Army representative informed Henson about the special circumstances that led to the re-examination of Mills’ remains and asked if he would be interested in escorting Mills back home to Dallas.
Henson recalled, “There was another individual, who had served in the Korean War, who was searching for his brother who also died during the conflict. He requested a set of four unknown soldiers be disinterred and re-evaluated due to new technology and hoped his brother would be among them.
“Unfortunately, that man has not found his brother yet,” Henson continued. “However, when they disinterred those four bodies and conducted the chest radiographies, they were able to positively identify Mills as one of the four unknowns.”
As part of USSTRATCOM, Henson is responsible for the installation, configuration and management of data networks and cyber systems. After speaking with the Army, Henson informed his leadership about the opportunity presented before him and began his journey a few weeks later.
Henson took a commercial flight and met with representatives from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. While at DPAA, Henson toured the facility, received a mission briefing and was educated on some of the techniques and processes that DPAA used to identify the remains of the missing service members.
“I appreciated the effort and the passion behind the staff at DPAA,” stated Henson. “You can really feel that they cared about what they’re doing and they find it meaningful to bring loved ones back to their families.”
Following orientation, Henson met with the mortician to view his grand uncle-in-law’s remains and was provided some time to be alone with family. When the mortician returned, he wrapped the remains in a customary wool blanket and prepared Mills’ remains for transfer to the local funeral home. As the remains were transferred to the hearse, military personnel from the facility lined up and rendered a salute as Mills was loaded into the vehicle.
“The funeral home prepared a replica of his uniform, with corresponding unit medals and awards,” explained Henson. “They also included the Purple Heart, which was awarded to him posthumously. They had me inspect it to ensure everything was correct.”
Ensuring everything was in order, Henson followed the hearse to the airport to confirm safe transport of Mills’ remains and prepared to board the aircraft for the flight home.
“When escorting returning service members, it is customary for the deceased to be the last one on and the first one off the aircraft,” Henson said. “What I didn’t know is that the pilot was going to make an announcement prior to landing in Dallas that aboard the aircraft was a war hero from the Korean conflict, who is returning after 68 years of being missing in action. It seemed that everyone on board was taken back.”
After touching down in Dallas, the local fire department saluted Mills’ return by firing their water cannons over the aircraft. In addition, the USO honor guard, Fort Worth honor guard, local police station and volunteers showed up to pay their respects, along with Henson’s family.
“To be honest, this process is something I never had to think about before,” Henson said. “There was a lot of respect and dignity behind it and I appreciated that. In the military, you hear, ‘no man left behind,’ all the time, but until you see this process for yourself and you see the length the government will go to bring back people who gave the ultimate sacrifice, the meaning becomes a lot heavier.
“I like to think that he was told no man left behind and that was the same thing I was told 68 years later,” Henson continued. “I hope fulfilling that promise means something to him and I’d like to think that he rests easier knowing that a family member brought him back and he’s finally home.”
The Korean War accounting effort remains a priority for the U.S. government. The Department of Defense pursues opportunities to gain access to loss sites within North Korea and South Korea. Additionally, identifications continue to be made from remains that were returned to the United States using forensic and DNA technology. More than 7,800 Americans remain unaccounted for from this conflict.
USSTRATCOM has global responsibilities assigned through the Unified Command Plan that include strategic deterrence, nuclear operations, space operations, cyberspace operations, joint electromagnetic spectrum operations, global strike, missile defense, and analysis and targeting.
For more information, contact the USSTRATCOM Public Affairs Office at 402-294-4130 or USSTRATCOMPA@mail.mil or visit www.stratcom.mil. For more information about DPAA, contact Offutt AFB’s laboratory at 402-232-4511.