Half way around the world, nearly a lifetime ago, a young man from Clay County found himself as a prisoner of war.
At 19, Robert Gene Archer was still a teenager in late 1950 when he was reportedly captured near the Chosin Reservoir in communist North Korea. Cpl. Archer, a light truck driver and infantryman, would die as a captive of the North Korean forces in that distant place, far from his family, friends and home.
Now, thanks to DNA testing by the U.S. military using samples from Archer’s surviving relatives, Cpl. Archer’s remains have been identified and returned to his hometown of Brazil. They arrived at the French Funeral Home on East National Avenue early Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s really good that they brought him home,” said Jim Archer, a nephew of Cpl. Archer. “We’re just honored that they brought him home.”
Jim Archer and his cousin, John Archer, who was also part of the event Tuesday, were too young to recall their uncle, who died serving in the Korean War, 1950-1953. But they said their older relatives never forgot “Uncle Robert.”
“My mom and dad always talked about him,” John Archer said, standing outside the French Funeral Home, where services for his uncle are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday. Burial will follow the services at Summit Lawn Cemetery with full military honors.
A large contingent, including veterans groups, escorted Archer’s remains Tuesday from the Indianapolis International Airport to Clay County, where Robert Archer attended high school and worked at Mohr’s Garage in Brazil before enlisting in the U.S. Army.
“We try to do this whenever we can,” said Toni Brown, a member of the Greenwood American Legion Post, who was part of the large escort. “We still have a lot of [military men and women missing in action],” she said. “We need to get more of them home.”
According to the U.S. Defense Department, there are four Vigo County veterans of the Korean War for whom there have been no remains identified. They include Herbert Dale Akers, John H. Cowger, William R. Cunningham and Gilbert Harmon.
The same records show there are also two Clay County Korean War veterans for whom no remains have been identified: James Mishler and Thomas W. Neiswinger, both of whom were serving in the U.S. Army when they went missing.
Archer is one of six U.S. veterans identified through DNA testing so far this year, according to the Defense Department. His remains were identified on Jan. 14.
There are approximately 88,000 military men and women missing in action from World War II through the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to U.S. government data.
Archer has been awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
For his family members still living in Clay County, having their uncle back home brings a long-overdue sense of closure and satisfaction. It also brings a sense of pride.
“You’ve got to admire the people that go in the service and fight for our country,” said John Archer leaving the funeral home. “How can you not be proud?”
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org