The family of a local soldier whose remains have been identified 62 years after he was reported missing in action in Korea has decided he will come home to Bakersfield for burial.
U.S. Army Pfc. Roosevelt Clark, who grew up in Arvin and played for the 1949 Bakersfield High School football team, was reported missing in action Nov. 28, 1950, while fighting with the 35th Infantry Regiment in North Korea.
He was just 18.
The Californian first reported earlier this month that Clark's remains had been positively identified through a DNA match. At that time, a family member in Georgia said Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., was being considered as a final resting place for Clark, who went by the nickname "Jack."
But the idea of burying his remains anywhere but Kern County received an urgent veto from other relatives with roots here.
"The importance of bringing him back to Kern County can't be overstated," said Darin Maiden, 44, who, along with his siblings, was raised by his great-aunt Sarah Clark, Roosevelt's mother.
"That was always her wish," Maiden said. "Just that he come home."
Maiden read the original story online from his station in Afghanistan, where the former Navy special forces member now works as a contracted diplomatic security specialist for the State Department.
Maiden said he cried for a while after reading the story. Then he called relatives and The Californian via Skype the same day, desperate to learn more details.
"We all lived with Jack's mother and father, Sarah and Willie Clark, on a ranch in Arvin," he said during that call.
"We all knew very well the story of Sarah and her wish that Jack could come home," Maiden said.
A portrait of Jack was displayed in a place of honor in the family's living room, and Sarah often spoke to her lost son through that picture, Maiden recalled.
Rennie Hunter, 69, one of Jack's cousins now living in Dallas, Ga., said there was much interest in making Kern the young soldier's final resting place. So the decision was made.
Jack's remains will be transported from Hawaii to Meadows Field airport in Bakersfield under military escort. Although the exact time and date of arrival remains unclear, Jack's remains will be interred March 1 at Hillcrest Cemetery in east Bakersfield.
The public is invited.
"He will be treated as an active duty soldier killed in action," said David Jackson, commander of the Kern County chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart -- a medal, incidentally, that was awarded to Roosevelt "Jack" Clark.
A single military escort will accompany Jack's remains every step of the way, from Hawaii where they are now to an Army base to pick up an honor guard team -- and finally home.
"We need to do all we can to show our appreciation for his service and his sacrifice," Jackson said. "His parents died never knowing that their son's remains would finally come home.
Sixty-two years have passed, Jackson said. But we cannot forget what he did.
Were it not for the diligent work of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC for short, Clark's remains may never have been identified. Based in Hawaii, JPAC conducts global search, recovery and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts.
In an email Friday, JPAC spokeswoman Capt. Jamie Dobson noted that in late November 1950, U.S. and allied forces were deployed in a defensive line that ran east-west across the center of North Korea, north of the town of Kujang.
"During the night of Nov. 25, elements of the Chinese People's Volunteer Forces attacked and overwhelmed the American and allied positions," Dobson said. "American units sustained heavy losses as they withdrew south toward the vicinity of the town of Unsan."
Clark was one of three men listed as missing in action three days later.
According to Dobson, an estimated 5,300 servicemen who remain unaccounted-for from the Korean War are believed to be in North Korea.
For the relatives of Pfc. Clark, it seems almost a miracle that Jack is coming home.
Karlina Maiden Martin, a Bakersfield teacher and brother of Darin Maiden, said she's just one of many relatives who never had the chance to meet Jack Clark, but lived with his presence in the Clark household, which was palpable.
"We spent our childhood grieving the portrait of a young man that we never got to know," she said. "We spent our childhood hoping that he would one day come through the door" and finally end the grief their Great-Aunt Sarah endured every day.
They called her "Grammy," Martin said. "She was the mother we never had. Though she was our great-aunt, we grew up knowing her only as our grandmother."
The joy of knowing Jack is coming home is bittersweet, she said, mixed with the sorrow of his loss and the knowledge that older relatives will never know his remains had been found.
"We have waited more than 40 years for Roosevelt's return home," Martin said. "I'm only saddened that the elders, who could truly appreciate his return, have passed on."
Jack's parents grieved for far to long, she said.
"Our family can now truly rest in peace."