Sixty-five years after he was believed to have died in a North Korean POW camp, Army Pfc. Lavern C. Ullmer was buried in his hometown on Veterans Day.
Family and friends of the Dayton soldier gathered Friday for a memorial service at SouthBrook Christian Church in Miami Twp. and a burial with full military honors at Willow View Cemetery in Dayton where his remains will be placed between the graves of his parents.
“It’s an amazing story that our family can have such closure,” said Ullmer’s niece, Cathy Summerfield, 60, of Spartanburg. S.C.
Her mother, the late China Ullmer Aleshire, was one of two relatives who provided U.S. authorities with DNA samples to positively identify the remains of the fallen soldier. He was 23 years old when he died in January 1951. He was the middle child of three and grew up with his sisters, China and the late Leila “Jackie” Gray, in Riverside.
At the memorial service, Army soldiers presented combat medals the fallen soldier earned long ago to relatives of an uncle and cousin known for his generosity.
On a blustery and slightly windy November afternoon at the gravesite midst a burst of orange and red leaves, a bugler played taps a final time. Soldiers in black dress uniforms aimed at the sky and fired a volley of ceremonial shots to honor one of their own from decades past.
Ullmer’s remains were flown to Dayton International Airport on Tuesday from a military identification laboratory in Hawaii, more than a decade since they were found by an American team of archaeologists and anthropologists in Unsan County in the South Pyongan Province in North Korea. The Defense Department said it was only recently able to make a match based on DNA and circumstantial evidence.
“I was in awe,” said Charles Lavern Aleshire, 63, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who was named after the uncle he never met. “I was really in awe. But I was also grateful and thankful that they were able to do that research and make the findings. Honestly speaking, I didn’t think it was possible through all of those soldiers who were lost and I didn’t think it would ever happen. But when I did find out it was like a big sigh of relief.”
“I was shocked, I was amazed, I was thrilled,” said James L. Ullmer Jr., of Crystal, Minn.. His father, John Sr., was a Korean War Marine combat veteran.
Lavern Ullmer’s unit fought the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces in heavy combat in North Korea in 1950. The soldier was part of Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. Within days, half the U.S. Army regiment was lost to enemy attacks as it fought along a road the troops called “the Gauntlet” between Kunu-ri and Sunch from Nov. 25 to Dec. 1, 1950, according to the Army.
Ullmer was declared missing in action during the battle. The soldier’s name did not appear on POW lists released by the Chinese military or North Korean People’s Army. But he was declared deceased when two repatriated American POWs reported Ullmer died Jan. 21, 1951 in Hofong Camp, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
James Ullmer Jr., did not know the story of his family member until his father mentioned in 2001 the loss of his first cousin.
“We’re a brotherhood,” said James Jr., an Army veteran. “If you’re a veteran, you’re part of the brotherhood, you understand. There’s a bond and it never breaks. We’re all in it together. One way or another, we’re all connected.”