Remains of Southern California soldier missing since Korean War come home

Historians sometimes call the Korean War the forgotten war.

But it is hardly forgotten by the families of the fallen — including the more than 7,800 U.S. military personnel whose bodies have never been accounted for.

Like Army Cpl. Robert Witt, who was 20 when he was reported missing during a brutal battle near Chosin Reservoir in December 1950. He had grown up in Bellflower, graduated from high school in Norwalk and joined the Army in 1948.

In 1953, U.S. officials determined that Witt had died of malnutrition while a POW, but his remains were not among those that were repatriated.

Laverne Minnick, 82, who lives in Huntington Beach, said she remembers when Army officials came to the family home to reveal that her brother was dead.

“My dad had brown hair the day before, but the day after, his hair was gray,” Minnick said. “Nobody said anything that day. We just hugged each other.”


In memory of her son, Witt’s mother became active in Blue Star Mothers, an organization of women with children in the military.

“She volunteered at the VA in Long Beach, helping the veterans,” Minnick said. “She marched in parades, she carried the American flag. That was her life.”

Robert Witt had joined the Army in hopes of advancement. He was being trained as a photographer, Minnick said.

“He loved the Army,” Minnick said. “He was learning a skill that would help him get a job when he left the Army.”

In the days before he was captured, Witt wrote to his family telling them not to worry. He was working in the mail room, not on the front lines.

But during an enemy assault, Witt and other soldiers were ordered to grab rifles and go to the front. “He only had a summer uniform, not really prepared for the cold,” his sister said.

Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned 208 boxes of commingled human remains, believed to be those of 600 U.S. personnel. In 2000, a burial site near the village of Hweaong-Ri was excavated and more remains were recovered.

The slow process of matching the remains to the missing through DNA was begun by the Pentagon’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Witt’s family submitted samples.

The family received periodic updates. Success was not assured. Eight years passed.

As her health declined, Minnick lost hope. “I was afraid I would never get Robert home,” Minnick said, her voice faltering.

Finally, specialists determined that two bones were those of Witt. The family was notified.

The Army took Minnick to LAX in a limousine and used a wheelchair to bring her beside the plane as her brother’s casket was lowered to the ground.

“I put my head on the casket and talked to Robert,” she said. “I told him he was home.”

Rather than having her brother buried at a national cemetery, Minnick chose Rose Hills Memorial Park, in Whittier, where their parents are buried.

A graveside service, complete with military honors, is set for Friday.

“I’ll know where he is now,” Minnick said. “He’s where he belongs, with his family.”


Man with knife shot, critically wounded by LAPD near USC

L.A. Unified again fires attorney who blamed student for having sex with teacher

Central California deputy escapes from custody after 2nd arrest, prompting manhunt