Remains of Korean War soldier return to Missouri

Thursday, April 16, 2009 | 3:36 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Fifty-eight years after a young soldier was reported missing during the Korean War, his remains are returning to Missouri.

The Department of Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing Personnel Office announced Thursday that the remains of Pfc. David Woodruff of Poplar Bluff have been identified and will be returned for burial with full military honors on Wednesday at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.

In the early 1990s, North Korea turned over to U.S. officials 208 boxes with remains of U.S. soldiers. Authorities believe remains of 200 to 400 U.S. servicemen were in those boxes, including Woodruff's.

His brother, Peter Woodruff, said the news was welcomed by relatives, including five siblings who are still alive.

"It's great," Peter Woodruff, 72, said. "We're very happy they finally located the remains and put some closure on this situation that's been in existence almost 60 years."

On Feb. 11, 1951, the Chinese Army attacked U.S. troops near Hoengsong, South Korea. Woodruff was captured and taken prisoner. Officials said he died in or near a North Korean prison camp. He was 20 at the time of his capture.

Woodruff grew up in Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri. Peter Woodruff said his brother was outgoing and ambitious, always doing odd jobs. He loved sports, especially softball. He had joined the military only six months before he was captured in North Korea.

Peter Woodruff was 15 at the time his brother went missing.

"It was tremendous pain but there was also a lot of hope he'd be returned alive," he recalled.

That hope went away two years later when the Department of Defense told the family that David Woodruff was declared dead.

Larry Greer, a spokesman for the POW/Missing Personnel Office, said officials used a combination of circumstantial evidence, DNA testing and dental identification to determine the remains were those of Woodruff.

"What they were able to do was match teeth recovered which matched with a great deal of consistency his existing dental records," Greer said.

Also, a box turned over by the North Koreans in 1991 contained Woodruff's military identification tag. Another turned over in 1992 contained remains that DNA evidence indicated as Woodruff's.

The government spends about $106 million annually to identify the remains of missing soldiers dating to World War II. Greer said 78,000 servicemen remain missing from World War II, 8,100 from the Korean War and 1,742 from Vietnam.

In addition to the boxes turned over by North Korea, American officials have gone to North Korea and used other methods to locate remains. All told, remains of 100 U.S. soldiers from the Korean War have been identified, Greer said.

"This is the government's response to the men and their families who made the ultimate sacrifice," Greer said. "It's the least the government can do to help bring closure to these families."

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