Long Lost Family Member Is Returned For Burial From The Korean War

Cpl. James T. Mainhart
Cpl. James T. Mainhart

The long wait for the Mainhart family of Butler, Pennsylvania is over.  The remains of their long lost family member, Army Cpl. James T. Mainhart, who was just 19 when he died in the Korean War, have been returned to them.

Mainhart was serving with the US Army as a member of Company I, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, when his regiment was combined with other US and Korean forces to build the 3,200 strong, 31st Regimental Combat Team.  This team was deployed in November 1950, east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea but was overwhelmed by Chinese forces.  By early December 1950, the US Army evacuated 1,500 wounded servicemen, but the remaining forces were either killed in action or captured by the Chinese army.  As Mainhart was not one of the evacuated wounded servicemen, he was declared killed in action from the 30th November 1950.

Mainhart’s body was not recovered, and his name did not appear on any of the infrequently supplied lists of prisoners of war, which the CPVF and the North Korean People’s Army supplied to the US Army.  In addition to this, no returning prisoners of war could provide any information about Mainhart, so his status as deceased remained.

After the end of the war, the United Nations Command and the North Korean authorities eventually agreed on the administrative details that allowed the US Army Graves Registration Service to recover the remains of American soldiers, killed north of the Korean Demilitarised Zone.  Late in 1954, Operation Glory went ahead, but the Mainhart family were disappointed when James Mainhart’s remains were not included and were declared non-recoverable.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and the Korea People’s Army Recovery Team conduct field investigations together, in an effort to locate as many of the missing remains as possible and in September and October of 2004 they conducted the 36th Joint Field Activity.  During this investigation, held in the vicinity of the Chosin River, they were told of a grave where the remains of an American soldier had been reburied.  The grave was located, and the remains of some five individuals were recovered, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reported.

Following a complicated investigation using complex DNA matching, Mainhart’s remains were matched to his brother and a nephew.  In addition, an anthropological investigation using his Army records and other circumstantial evidence led to the remains being positively identified as belonging to Army Cpl. James T. Mainhart.

Mainhart was buried in his hometown Butler, Pennsylvania, on the 8th April.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE