CHAPMANVILLE — After nearly 71 years, the remains of a Korean War veteran who went missing in action in 1950 were finally returned home to Chapmanville last week.
Cpl. Pete Conley, a native of Logan County’s northernmost town, was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division during the Korean War in 1950. On Dec. 12 of that year, he was reported missing in action after his unit was attacked by enemy forces near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.
Conley was born July 14, 1931, and was just 19 years old when he was reported missing.
For nearly seven decades, his remains were never recovered. In June 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump held a summit with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and a month later, the country turned over 55 boxes purported to contain the remains of American service members who died during the Korean War.
On Aug. 1, 2018, those remains arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and were taken to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) laboratory for identification. On June 5, 2020, just a few short months before the 70th anniversary of when he went missing, the DPAA was able to positively account for Conley’s remains.
Scientists from the DPAA used anthropological analysis and circumstantial evidence to identify the remains. Scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System also used mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA analysis.
In early July, the DPAA made the official announcement regarding Conley’s positive identification. On the evening of Aug. 3, his remains arrived in a flag-draped casket at John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio.
Led by the West Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, a procession which included a hearse from Evans Funeral Home in Chapmanville, police, veterans, family members and others traveled to Columbus to bring Conley home.
The processional was escorted from the airport to the West Virginia border by airport police, Columbus police and the Ohio Highway Patrol.
A 94-year-old veteran who served in Korea with Conley was also picked up by the processional along the way to witness the arrival of the plane carrying the casket at the airport.
As the escort made the three-hour journey back to Chapmanville, numerous crowds of people lined the roads along the way, including I-77 in Jackson County and on U.S. 119 just south of Danville, where the Madison and Danville fire departments erected a U.S. flag over the highway as the processional came through. The escort also continually became larger as police, veterans and others joined in as it passed through.
At around 11:15 p.m., Conley was finally home after almost 71 years. His remains were delivered to Evans Funeral Home, where a funeral was held three days later on Aug. 6.
Around the casket, the funeral was decorated with numerous photos of Conley and family members and military and POW/MIA-related items. At the foot of the casket was a heart-wrenching letter written to the Department of the Army in July 1955 by Conley’s mother in which she pleads for news about her son.
Veterans from American Legion Post 19 of Logan, American Legion Post 103 of Chapmanville and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Daniel Boone Post 5578 of Madison attended.
Carl Bledsoe, who serves as commander of the Conley-Edmunds American Legion Post 103 in Chapmanville, explained the history of the Post, which is in part named for Conley. He and Adjutant Commander John Toney traveled with the procession to Columbus to retrieve the remains.
“We got into the line to come back, and when we came into West Virginia, there was a crowd of people on both sides of the road in Ravenswood, West Virginia,” Bledsoe said. “I’ve had a lot of feelings in my life, but to see that and witness that and be there and experience it was one of the greatest feelings I’ve had — to know how patriotic our country still is and how proud I am of it, and how proud I am of him [Conley], because he made the ultimate sacrifice. Some of us gave some, but some gave all, and he was one of the men that gave all. For me to be there and welcome him back, even though I never met him, was a great honor and I’ll carry that with me the rest of my life.”
Following the funeral, a standard military burial service was held at Forest Lawn Cemetery at Pecks Mill. The American flag draped over his casket was folded and presented to Ruth Ann Belcher, a niece of Conley who — along with several other nieces, nephews and other relatives — was present for the services.