An Army corporal who lost his life during the Korean War will be buried with full military honors this weekend in his Vermont hometown, after advanced DNA analysis helped identify his remains.
The newly-identified remains of 20-year-old George Perreault Jr. returned home to Vermont this week in a flag-draped casket.
His niece, Karen O'Brien of Salem, Massachusetts, who was a baby when Perreault died, said she has waited a lifetime to lay her uncle to rest.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how happy we are about this,” O’Brien told NBC Boston Friday. “We want to show him the honor he should have gotten in 1951.”
A cemetery headstone made for Perreault more than 60 years ago marked an empty grave; until now.
“We get the chance to honor him,” O’Brien said of a military burial scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, Perreault, who grew up in Winooski and neighboring Burlington, faced intense combat in the Korean War and went missing in 1951.
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Three years later, the U.S. government declared him dead, but there was no body for his loved ones to bury.
Finally, six decades later, a long-awaited match: O’Brien and her late mother had given blood samples and cheek swabs that helped military scientists positively identify human remains that North Korea handed over in the early 1990s.
Following a Catholic Mass Saturday, Perreault will be buried in Winooski with full military honors, alongside his parents.
“He was their only son,” O’Brien said. “I know they’re up [in heaven] saying, ‘It’s happened!’”
There are many families like George Perreault’s who are still waiting for answers. The U.S. Defense Department said roughly 7,750 American military personnel who served in the Korean War are still unaccounted for.
Advancements in DNA analysis are, however, giving some of those families new hope.
“It fulfills the nation’s promise that no one will be left behind,” Brig. Gen. Mark Lovejoy of the Vermont Army National Guard said of the military’s ongoing work to identify service members who are currently unaccounted for. “We will continue to do everything within our power to find our missing in action, and we will never stop.”
Karen O’Brien said she appreciates that determination, and is very glad her uncle George is back where he belongs, with those who loved him the most.
“I’m just grateful—for my grandparents and my parents and my aunt—that we’re bringing him back to them,” O’Brien said. “They lost him and we’re bringing him back.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said Cpl. Perreault’s sacrifice will never be forgotten.
“I commend the POW/MIA Accounting Agency for their tireless efforts to locate and identify the remains of Corporal Perreault, more than six decades after he first went missing,” Sen. Sanders said in a written statement. “I am pleased, at long last, this Vermont hero will be buried in Winooski next to his parents.”
O’Brien praised the office of Sen. Sanders, who worked on coordinating logistics with Delta Airlines, the Burlington International Airport, the Vermont Army National Guard, and the U.S. Army Casualty Assistance Center to facilitate the return of Perreault’s remains to the Burlington Airport.