The remains of Cpl. Ralph Boughman have been missing since 1950, when he was killed during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War. For the 70 years since then, his family has remained in the dark about the location of his body. After North Korea agreed to release the remains of U.S. servicemen who were killed during the conflict, Boughman’s remains have finally returned home.
Boughman in Korea
At the age of just 19, Boughman joined the U.S. Army in August of 1948, after being inspired by his older brothers’ involvement in WWII. He began basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, before being transferred to Fort Lawton, Washington. From there, he was sent to Japan. He stayed in Japan for a year, after which he was shipped over to Korea.
In Korea, Boughman was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 32 Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. The 7th Infantry Division was heavily involved in the fighting at the Chosin Reservoir, when the Chinese launched a surprise attack against UN forces in late November 1950. This battle lasted just over two weeks and was fought in bitterly cold temperatures on tough terrain.
Boughman and his unit battled the Chinese on December 2nd. Unfortunately, Boughman was killed during this action, and his comrades were unable to retrieve his body. Without a body, he was declared missing in action.
His family received a telegram in early 1951 informing them that he was MIA, which left the family heartbroken. It wasn’t until December 1953 that they learned he was officially declared dead, four days before Christmas. Later, his family was given Boughman’s personal possessions from his time in the Army. This included a mechanical pencil, sewing kit, silk jacket, a baseball, a Japanese flag, one ring, one bracelet, and three pennies.
The lack of closure meant his family held out hope for the discovery and return of his remains, which eluded them for seven decades.
However, in 2018, North Korea handed over the remains of U.S. servicemen who were killed during the Korean War after a summit with the President of the United States. Unknown to his family at the time, Boughman’s previously missing remains were inside one of the boxes returned to the U.S.
The remains were sent to Hawaii, and with the use of DNA were officially identified as Boughman’s in April 2020. In that same month, his nephew, Larry Boughman, received a phone call from the Army to inform him of the discovery.
Larry said “It was chilling,” and “I could hardly believe it.”
Ralph Boughman’s memorial
His remains arrived in North Carolina in May 2021, where a memorial was held for his burial at Rosemont Cemetery. His family talked about Ralph Bowman during the service, his childhood, his life on the farm and working with his father at a sawmill.
At the service, Boughman’s coffin was topped with the American flag, which was folded up and given to his sister, Pansy Boughman Bourne. Pansy, 89, is one Ralph’s nine siblings, all of whom except her have passed away.
Of the service, Pansy said, “I am so surprised we had such a good turnout and appreciate everyone coming.” She added, “It is great and wonderful he (Ralph) is here at last and just a few miles from his home place. I am so glad the Lord let us find him. I prayed for it, and he answered my prayers.”
Glenn Boughman, one of Boughman’s nephews, also spoke about Ralph and the return of his remains.
“From that day the family was first notified, there was a great unknown for the family about what happened to him,” he said. “When his remains were found and identified and released from Korea to here, it took many steps and a chain of events.”
Another nephew, Ernie Boughman, remembers when the family was notified Boughman was MIA.
“Even though I was not quite 6 years old, I remember the family gathering and just remember grandmother was heartbroken,” he said of this difficult time. “She broke down and cried, and there was just sadness in the whole house.”
The Army held a ceremony for Boughman the previous day, where they presented Pansy with Ralph’s long list of medals: the Purple Heart, Gold Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Marksmanship Badge, Korean Service Medal, National Defense Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Citation, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea War Services Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, and Army Presidential Unit Citation Medal.
Also in attendance of his memorial were the Patriot Guard Riders, who upon invitation will protect and bolster the ranks at military burials, and the Rolling Thunder organization, who aim to bring greater attention to U.S. service members who are prisoners of war or declared missing in action.