LOS ANGELES — Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Gantt told his wife to remarry if he didn’t come back from the war. She told him no. After all, he had a hard enough time getting her to say yes. He was it.
For 63 years, the World War II and Korean War veteran was missing in action and presumed dead, but Clara Gantt, 94, held out hope and never remarried.
Early Friday on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport, the widow stood from her wheelchair and cried as her husband’s flag-draped casket arrived home.
“I am very, very proud of him. He was a wonderful husband, an understanding man,” she said at the airport. “I always did love my husband, we was two of one kind, we loved each other. And that made our marriage complete.”
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Joseph Gantt joined the Army in 1942 and was in the South Pacific during World War II. He met Clara on a train from Texas to Los Angeles in 1946; they married two years later. They had no children.
They lived at Fort Lewis until he left for the Korean War.
Joseph Gantt was reported missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950, while serving as a field medic with Battery C, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, according to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C.
Clara Gantt bought a home in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood and got a gardener so that when her husband returned, he wouldn’t have to work in the yard. He could just go fishing and do whatever he wanted, she said.
“I bought a home for him. And I am in that home now,” she said.
According to the missing-personnel office, elements of the 2nd Infantry Division were attacked by greater numbers of Chinese forces near the town of Kunu-ri, North Korea. The division disengaged and withdrew, fighting its way through Chinese roadblocks. Numerous U.S. soldiers were reported missing that day near Somindong, North Korea.
After a 1953 exchange of prisoners of war, returning U.S. soldiers said Gantt had been injured in battle, captured by Chinese forces and died in a POW camp in early 1951 from malnutrition and lack of medical care.
His remains were only recently identified. Information on when they were found was not immediately available from the missing personnel office.
“Sixty-some odd years, and just receiving his remains, coming home, was a blessing and I am so happy that I was living to accept him,” Clara Gantt said.
Burial with full military honors is scheduled for next Saturday in Inglewood.
In her bedroom, Clara Gantt keeps a shrine with her husband’s awards, including the Bronze Star with Valor, awarded posthumously for his combat leadership actions while defending his unit’s position, and a Purple Heart, said Bob Kurkjian, the executive director of USO Greater Los Angeles Area.
The pylons at the airport glowed red, white and blue in honor of the veteran’s return, and an Airport Police and Army honor guard met the plane as it touched down from Honolulu, where the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and forensics labs are located.
“It’s a holiday homecoming for the Gantt family to finally be able to close that chapter and move forward knowing with certainty that their husband, uncle, great-uncle is finally home,” Kurkjian said.
This is the third Korean War veteran whose remains have been brought home in the past 18 months, he said.
Nearly 7,900 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. According to the Defense Department, modern technology allows identifications to continue to be made from remains turned over by North Korea or recovered from that nation by U.S. teams.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.