SALISBURY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — For 73 years, no one knew the name of Korean War soldier X-15633.
His remains were laid to rest in 1956 with hundreds of other unidentified soldiers at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as “The Punchbowl,” in Honolulu. His identity remained a mystery — until now.
“My grandmother didn’t have closure,” said Salisbury resident Jatonna Garner. “My mom passed away last year. She didn’t have any closure. But we do now. So, that that’s all that matters, that he’s finally home.”
Garner is U.S. Army Cpl. Rex Powell’s niece. She never met him because he was just 17 when he enlisted in the Army and had just turned 18 when he died.
“They were in training and then they were shipped straight to Korea,” Garner said, “and then within an extremely short amount of time, they all perished.”
Powell grew up in Valdese, but few remaining relatives have only heard stories of what he was like.
“He was what my grandmother called a wandering soul,” Garner said. “He never really found his place. He decided that maybe he could see the world.”
In 1950, Powell, a soldier in the 7th Infantry Division, was in the infamous Battle of Chosin Reservoir, where brutal frigid temperatures accompanied the fear of death or capture.
“I know within my heart, within my soul, that Rex looked and ask for his God,” one service member said at Friday’s memorial service, “more than likely [he] asked for his mama. More than likely there was someone back home that was near to his heart.”
He was reported missing in action Dec. 12, 1950, and until earlier this year, Powell was presumed dead. But his mother, all her life not knowing, always wondered.
“She clung to the hope that he was either a prisoner of war or maybe he escaped and was just living somewhere,” Garner said.
Now, thanks to the extensive testing beginning in 2021 by the Korean War Disinterment Project, he’s missing no more.
“When they called me in January and told me that they had identified his remains, it was a shock,” she said.
At the Salisbury National Cemetery Friday, after 73 years, Powell’s family could finally hold a proper military funeral for a man who all but faded from memory.
“It means the world to me and my family because, again, he laid down his life,” Garner said. “He was 18 years old. He never got to live, you know, he didn’t get married. He didn’t get to have children. It means the absolute world to us that we’re able to do this for him and give him the recognition that he so richly deserves for what he gave up.”