ST. ALBANS, W.Va. — Among the 50 sets of human remains returned to U.S. soil, some may be missing-in-action soldiers who fought alongside Jim DeCarlo more than six decades ago.
As the remains undergo identification, it dredges up painful longings for the St. Albans resident.
“We can only hope some of them will be our boys,” said DeCarlo, who leads the Mountaineer Chapter of the Korean War Veterans of America.
There are still 168 West Virginia veterans listed as MIA in Korea. Returning the remains was part of negotiations between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
DeCarlo now makes his home in Kanawha County but grew up in Weirton. Looking for a job out of high school at age 20 he enlisted in the Army. Halfway through a two-year hitch, he found himself on the other side of the world in a war zone.
“The fact I was able to survive wasn’t because of who I was, it was because of my training,” he said. “That saved my life.”
DeCarlo was wounded when a mortar shell exploded only feet away, piercing him with more than 100 pieces of shrapnel. He considers himself lucky that the round had a delayed fuse, thus saving him from its full impact.
“It should have taken my head off,” he said. “But it drove down into the ground about a foot before it went off. I was hit with about a bushel of dirt.”
Two other soldiers near him survived also, but months later, his closest friend was killed just before the war ended. It still haunts DeCarlo today.
“My buddy Sonny was killed on July 24, and I’ve never really gotten over it,” he saidd. “It was three days before the truce was signed. He was a cook and he should never have gotten killed, but he was.”
DeCarlo still lives with the effects of his year in Korea. He cannot stomach war movies on TV, cannot attend fireworks shows, and suffers from poor circulation in his feet and lower legs as a result of nerve damage from the cold weather. He has never been back to Korea and has not desire to ever return.
“I don’t want to relive those memories any more than I have to,” he said. “It bothers me event to this day 65 years later. People ask if I ever think about it and I say, ‘Yes, every day, I just don’t let it eat me up, that’s all.'”
Whether any of the remains sent to Hawaii by North Korea are American GI’s or West Virginians remains to be determined.
“You can be sure if there are any coming back to our state or our area, I will be there to honor them,” DeCarlo said.