Clifton Henry had always admired the big brother he never met. Now 61 years later, he finally gets to say hello — and goodbye.
Henry was 4 months old when his half-brother, Sgt. Lee Dona Henry Jr. went missing in action during the Korean War.
The U.S. Army notified the Henry family this month that Junior’s remains, positively identified by DNA testing, were coming home to Tyler Sept. 15.
“I guess you could say I never knew him,” Henry said, holding an antique portrait of 17-year-old Junior in his Army uniform. “…He stands the way I do, one shoulder cocked.”
While Henry learned Junior had a good personality, was nice and friendly, he never learned what happened to him until now.
“For a long time, I thought Junior would just show up, that he’d just walk in,” Henry said. “I wanted to know what happened to Junior. In my mind I was thinking he was captured and never heard from again. I didn’t want to think the worst.”
Although Junior was presumed dead Dec. 31, 1953, his family clung to their hope that he was alive and that the report was wrong.
After the Army mailed his belongings home, Junior’s stepmother, Clara Henry, responded with a handwritten letter assuring herself and the Army that Junior would “be found soon.”
After recovering a mass grave marked X-25 in Busan, South Korea, the Army narrowed Junior down to three sets of remains in 1955.
Mrs. Henry continued corresponding with the Army, detailing Junior’s features and distinguishable protruding front teeth to try to identify him.
His unidentified remains were taken to Japan and then a memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, shortly after.
While the family grew to accept the loss of their brother over more than a half-century, the Army continued researching which remains belonged to Junior.
This March, they contacted Junior’s biological sister, Irajean Henry, for a DNA sample to identify possible remains.
They mailed her a package with four swabs to collect samples of DNA from her mouth and return. She said she did not have much confidence in their search.
“I just didn’t know how it could be done,” she said.
Last week, the Army announced they made a positive identification.
They delivered two bound books cataloging detailed research and photographs of Junior’s remains.
He was 5 feet 11 and weighed 175 pounds. Red arrows point out head injuries and a neatly laid out skeleton shows all but six of his bones.
“It’s very touching to the spirit and the soul to know after all these years,” Ms. Henry said. “I believe in the Army now that they really did what they said. … After all these years, we couldn’t ask for more.”
The siblings have mixed emotions surrounding the news, which Henry calls “good, bad news.”
“When he was first missing, I didn’t know about it,” Ms. Henry said. “No one informed me about it.”
She was 16 and enrolled in Texas College. Junior wrote a letter asking to send part of his Army check to help her and mailed her a photograph, which she still cherishes.
Junior was one of 20 siblings in the Henry family. Four children died during the diphtheria epidemic, including Irajean’s 4-year-old twin.
“We didn’t have a close relationship,” she said. “We don’t have the same emotions as a family that’s joined together, but I knew him and I didn’t forget him.”
Henry said the news brings closure to a lifetime of curiosity.
“Now, in 2011, we’re able to put this behind us,” Henry said. “This will close a chapter in a book for us.”
Junior was a member of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.
He is entitled to the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea-Korean War Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and the Republic of Korea Presidential unit Citation.
His remains will come home to Tyler Sept. 15 and the family is hosting a funeral service Sept. 17 at Saint James’ C.M.E. Church.
“We want to get it as fine a sendoff as it can be,” Henry said. “After all these years, he deserves for it to be a wonderful going-away ceremony.”
The siblings decided to forgo a burial at the military cemetery in favor of a plot next to his family at Evergreen Cemetery.
Henry said it is “one of the highlights” of his life to see his brother come home.
“It makes me proud, proud to be an American and proud to be his brother,” Henry said.