The remains of 23 U.S. military service members from Idaho who were killed in the Korean War are still missing, but after more than 70 years another fallen soldier with ties to the region has finally been laid to rest in front of the family just over a week ago.
Pfc’s four surviving siblings. Kenneth Bridger of the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division gathered Saturday, May 21 at Twin Falls Cemetery for a military honors ceremony. The private service, which began with a flyover by two Army Black Hawk helicopters and ended with a 21-gun salute and the usual tap dancing, had been anticipated for decades.
Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, who commands the Idaho National Guard, participated in the ceremony. Garshak presented a folded American flag to Bridger’s brother, Wilber Bridger, the veteran’s oldest living immediate relative, and Purple Heart coins to each of the four siblings, representing the award given to injured U.S. service members or killed in the line of duty.
“It is very comforting to me as a member of the service, and I think of all who serve, to know that we are fighting for a country that is committed to keeping this promise to never leave a comrade behind. deceased,” Garshak told the Idaho Statesman by phone. “No matter how long it takes, whether it’s over 70 years – in this case 72 years – the country will continue to strive to deliver on this promise and this commitment.”
Bridger, a 17-year-old enlisted man from northeastern Washington, was reported missing Nov. 30, 1950. His army regiment, stationed in a defensive position near North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir, suffered major casualties during of an attack by Communist Chinese troops, and he was believed to be among them, although his remains have not been found.
A few years later, the Bridger family moved from Colville, Washington – about 70 miles north of Spokane – to Idaho. Just before Memorial Day, the annual national celebration of service members who have lost their lives in service to the country, he was buried in Twin Falls Cemetery in an urn next to his mother and another brother.
“We have set aside Memorial Day to honor America’s defenders – those who have earned and deserve our reverence, recognition and respect,” Idaho Governor Brad Little said in a statement to the Statesman. “Let’s all commit to ensuring that this generation – and all that follow – honor those who serve in the military, especially those who have paid the ultimate price.”
Through a spokesperson for the Idaho National Guard, Bridger’s family declined an interview, requesting confidentiality after an emotional time. But the family had long since given up on finding their brother’s remains, according to The Spokesman-Review. About three decades ago, the Bridger siblings gave DNA samples to the military in case Kenneth’s remains were ever located.
“It’s been over 30 years since that happened,” Wilber Bridger told The Spokesman-Review in February. “We didn’t expect anything.”
But that unexpected call finally came. The remains of American servicemen, held in 55 boxes, were returned to American soil in the summer of 2018 as part of a diplomatic agreement between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and turned out to hold the key.
“After so many years, it will be a great time for so many families,” Trump posted on Twitter at the time, thanking the North Korean leader.
It was unclear then how many of the missing service members might be included in the remains. More than 80 people have not yet been identified, but it is now thought to be 170 Americans, according to a spokesperson for the US Department of Defense’s POW/MIA accounting agency, pictured in these remains – all killed between 1950 and 1953 in what is sometimes called “The Forgotten War”.
In January, based on the DNA of Bridger’s siblings, the accounting agency POW/MIA in Hawaii identified his remains.
Late on Tuesday, May 17, Bridger’s remains, under the watchful eye of an active duty soldier, were transported from Hawaii to Twin Falls, placed in a hearse and guided by a group of veterans on motorcycles in procession to a funeral home. Four days later, the long-lost soldier received several awards – including the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal with three bronze service stars and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal. and Korea – when he was finally laid to rest.
“It is the last memory and experience of these surviving family members of their loved one’s service in the United States,” Garshak said. “They are all equally significant. Every military funeral honor I attend is important, but I would say this one stands out.