The famous line from the Christian hymn "Amazing Grace" -- "I once was lost, but now I am found" -- was on the minds of many as the remains of Roosevelt Clark finally came home Wednesday morning after being lost for 62 years.
"My aunt and uncle are up in heaven, ecstatic that their son is home now," said Leticia Maiden Carter, Clark's cousin. "It's a blessing from God."
Nealy 100 people, including military veterans, Patriot Guard Riders and members of Clark's extended family, were at Hillcrest Memorial Park & Mortuary in east Bakersfield as the flag-draped casket was carried by a military honor guard into the chapel.
Clark, a Bakersfield High School student athlete who grew up in Arvin and joined the Army after leaving school in his junior year, was just 18 when he was declared missing in action in November 1950 after American ground forces in North Korea were overwhelmed by enemy troops. His rank when he died was private first class.
Clark, who went by the nickname "Jack," never had the chance to marry, to father children or to explore his full potential into adulthood. And Jack's mother and father, Sarah and Willie Clark, did not live to see the day their son's remains were finally returned home.
But for many surviving family members, some of whom knew Jack only through family stories and the memories of their elders, Wednesday's belated homecoming was a moment of profound joy.
"This family is blessed to have him home where he should be," said Darin Maiden, 45, who, along with his siblings, was raised by his great-aunt Sarah, Jack's mother.
"Sixty-two years is a long time," said Maiden, who served 20 years in the military, including in Afghanistan.
The casket carrying Clark's remains arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Hawaii early Wednesday morning. Members of Clark's family were on hand as a military honor guard carried the casket to a hearse for transport to Bakersfield.
The procession of vehicles carried a military entourage and family members. It was escorted by several members of the Patriot Guard Riders.
"Here's a guy who's been missing all this time -- and now he's been found and identified," said Ricardo Ybarra, a Gulf War veteran and one of the riders who escorted Clark's remains. "It's a privilege to come out and honor this man."
A plan to drive by Bakersfield High School on the way to Hillcrest was apparently pushed back until Friday, when Clark's remains will be taken to People's Missionary Baptist Church on Madison Street for a memorial service scheduled at 11 a.m. BHS students and teachers are invited to stand outside as the hearse passes in honor of the memory of the former Driller.
Of course, none of this became possible until Clark's remains were identified by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC for short.
Based in Hawaii, JPAC conducts global search, recovery and laboratory operations to identify unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts.
Handed over by North Korea in the early to mid-1990s, Clark's remains were among 208 boxes that were supposed to contain the remains of 208 U.S. servicemen. However, analysis by JPAC found that the remains were heavily commingled and represented more than 400 individuals.
With little to no information about the area the remains came from, JPAC anthropologists endeavored to reassemble and identify them. With the help of DNA and other laboratory analyses, Clark's remains were finally identified last year.
According to Dobson, the remains of an estimated 5,300 servicemen who were unaccounted for from the war are believed to still be in North Korea.
Rennie Hunter, 69, one of Clark's cousins who was reared with him as a child, was happy to see so many locals come to pay their respects Wednesday.
"This is why I love the United States," she said. "When something happens, we care for one another."
Although news that Jack had been identified initially came as a shock and opened up old wounds, Hunter said his return home closes a gap, a tear in the fabric of the family that remained ripped open for too long.
"Three of us were raised up together and one of us was missing," she said.
Jack was lost, but now he is found.
"And we're back together again."