PHOENIX - A very special burial service was held Friday, Dec. 2 for a Korean War soldier killed in action 65 years ago.
Pfc. Daniel Hunt's remains were identified in Feb. and returned to Phoenix on Wednesday.
Extended members of the Hunt family were on hand from all over the country for a ceremony of military honors befitting a fallen American hero.
Hunt received poshumous military awards from both the U.S. and South Korean governments for his actions during a battle known as Heartbreak Ridge in September, 1951.
He was laid to rest in the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.
"This was overwhelming," Lori Hunt, Daniel Hunt's great-niece said. "I'm just proud to be able to call him my uncle, and to know they were part of such a huge movement that really had nothing to do with them, per se," she said.
Pfc. Daniel Hunt was killed in action in the Korean War on Sept. 28, 1951. Hunt and his younger brother John left together. They were to go together and return together. Separated in war, John eventually made his way home but the fate of Daniel went unknown.
Fellow troops had seen what they thought was his likely death after heavy mortar fire exploded in his foxhole. Hunt was in heavy combat on Heartbreak Ridge as a member of the 9th Infantry Division. He was classified as missing in action for 10 years before officially pronounced dead.
Years ago, DNA samples were taken from John Hunt, which were eventually matched to Daniel. When he died in service to our country, he was just a teenager.
“My mother says he will always be 18 to her, and it’s like a child coming home,” said Debra Gauthier who was just a newborn when her great uncle went to war. Debra’s mother is the only living family member who truly knew him Daniel.
“He was just 18 years old when he went into the military so he didn’t get too much of a chance to have a life,” Gauthier added.
American remains identified by the Republic of Korea were turned over to the U.S. in February of this year.
“The most wonderful thing about this tragedy is that this is an opportunity to tell the rest of the world the price that’s been paid for our freedom,” said Claire Kile, a veteran who served during the Korean War.
Kile and Hunt’s family weren’t alone in their thanks. Total strangers to the family credit Daniel and other soldiers like him – not just for their freedom, but their lives as well.
Susan Kee is now an American, but it wasn’t a nationality she could always claim. She and her family were rescued by U.S. troops from the war-torn South Korea. She believes Daniel and other like him died to save her and her mother’s life.
“Why would somebody do that for somebody they don’t even know? That’s a hero to me,” Kee said. “South Korea is what it is today because of Americans who were willing to die for their freedom.”
Today, everyone got to welcome Daniel back to American soil and to a peaceful new final resting place where he can be honored.
Copyright 2016 KPNX