LOS ANGELES (AP) ― U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph E. Gantt went off to war 63 years ago, leaving behind a wife who never gave up on his return.
On Friday, 94-year-old Clara Gantt stood up from her wheelchair and wept in the cold before the flag-draped casket.
Sgt. Gantt was finally home.
“He told me if anything happened to him he wanted me to remarry. I told him no, no. Here I am, still his wife,” she told reporters at Los Angeles International Airport, where his remains were carried from a jetliner by military honor guard.
Gant was a field medic who went missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950, during the Korean War while serving with Battery C, 503rd Field Artillery, 2nd Infantry Division, according to the Defense Prisoner of War-Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C.
According to the 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 a series of Chinese roadblocks. Numerous U.S. soldiers were reported missing that day in the vicinity of Somindong, North Korea.
After a 1953 exchange of prisoners of war, returning U.S. soldiers reported that Gantt had been injured in battle and captured by Chinese forces. He 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.
Nearly 7,900 Americans are still 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 American teams.
“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.
She met her future husband in 1946 while on a train heading to California. Two years later, they were married.
She lives a few miles away from the airport in Inglewood. She bought the home in the 1960s to await her husband’s return and even hired a gardener because he hated yardwork, she told the Los Angeles Times.
One wall of her bedroom is covered with military certificates and photos but Gantt said she hasn’t displayed his posthumously awarded Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor for fear they would be stolen; there have been many break-ins over the years in her neighborhood.
Over the years she worked as a caregiver for children and the disabled. But she was never tempted to remarry.
“I am very, very proud of him. He was a wonderful husband, an understanding man,” she told reporters. “I always did love my husband, we was two of one kind, we loved each other. And that made our marriage complete.”
Joseph Gantt is to be buried with full military honors on Dec. 28 in Inglewood, California. Gantt said she plans one day to be buried next to him.