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Korean War POW finally laid to rest

Sixty-three years after his capture during the Korean War, Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Gantt was laid to rest Saturday in an Inglewood cemetery with full military honors in the presence of his widow.

Clara Gantt, 94, said she was happy that she had lived long enough to bury her husband.

“I wish it could have been earlier, but it’s one of those things,” she said. “I just prayed to the Lord to let me live to receive him, and he did.”

Gantt was taken prisoner defending his unit’s position near Kunu-ri, Korea, in 1950 and presumed dead. His remains were only recently identified and returned to his wife, who never remarried.

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During Saturday’s celebration of his homecoming, some spoke of Sgt. Gantt’s good character and bravery and his wife’s enduring strength and devotion.

“Not only did one come home, but one fought a good fight down here,” said Pastor Lamont Leonard. “Love is Mother Gantt,” he continued, and, reading from Corinthians: “Love is patient.”

Other speakers praised Clara Gantt as a woman of true faith who trusted God to bring home “one of Inglewood’s own heroes.”

“They don’t make ‘em like you anymore,” Mayor James Butts said, his words met with cheers.

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Ozell Edwards, 58, Clara Gantt’s nephew, said he’s never seen his aunt break down like she did when her husband’s casket arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in the early morning hours of Dec. 20. His remains were among those returned to the U.S. by a South Korean citizen and were identified at a forensics lab in Honolulu, according to the Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing Personnel Office.

“It’s been a long road. I’ve been hearing about it all my life,” Edwards said. “We didn’t think this was ever going to happen.”

Standing in front of his casket at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Clara Gantt laughed as she fondly remembered her husband, an understanding man. She loved being married, she said.

“We understood one another,” she said. “Anything I said, it was agreeable. Anything he said, it was agreeable. We just loved each other.”

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When he reenlisted, she told him, “I see you love the service, I will not hinder you. That’s your life. Wherever you go, I will go.”

“And that’s the way it was,” she said.

Frank Aragon, a volunteer with the Patriot Guard Riders, said he felt honored despite the sadness to be a part of such a special service. Members of the motorcade, including dozens of other veterans, came from as far away as Ventura and San Diego to pay their respects.

“We know what it’s like, and we like to welcome our heroes home,” said Aragon, a 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran.

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Lt. Col. Solomon Jamerson, who also attended the funeral, said he was listening to NPR when he heard Sgt. Gantt’s remains had been found and were being returned to his widow.

“I said, ‘Oh! That’s Joe!’ ” the 86-year-old recalled, eyes gleaming with the memory.

Jamerson, who served with Gantt in Korea, remembered the man as eager to help a “young greenhorn” learn the ropes.

“He pitched in and helped me to overcome the mysteries of guiding the unit, taking care of artillery pieces and so forth,” Jamerson said. “I thank God for the closure this has brought to Clara’s family.”

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Gary Boyle celebrated his 65th birthday in the church, with a family he had never met but with whom he felt a deep connection. He said his mother waited decades for news of his father after he was shot down in Korea in 1951. She never got word. He’s still waiting.

With nearly 8,000 service members still missing from the Korean War, he said, receiving remains is like winning the lottery.

“What are the odds?” said Boyle, who is a board member of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs.

“To me, this is the greatest gift I could have, to see a wife receive him back, something I wanted for my mother for 60 some years,” Boyle said at the service, wearing a brown flight jacket that read MIA on the back, in memory of his father. “We honor you, we love you, you’re so admired, I can’t begin to say.”

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Dozens of veterans, some in uniform, others holding flowers, gathered at the grave site to pay their respects to a fallen brother in what today is commonly referred to as the “forgotten war.”

Just as the casket was raised to be moved into its crypt, Clara Gantt stood and with the help of her niece slowly made her way to her husband’s side. She spoke to him a moment, then leaned forward to kiss him goodbye.

samantha.schaefer@latimes.com

nt, then leaned forward to kiss him goodbye.

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samantha.schaefer@latimes.com


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