Sgt. Stanley Wayne Bear died in Korea more than six decades ago while counting down the days until his 19th birthday.
Even though his body never came home, members of the young soldier’s family never forgot about “Uncle Wayne.” They will once again celebrate his memory this week following notification his remains have been positively identified and will be returned and interred at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North East.
“He was always talked about in our family ... especially by my mom,” said nephew Patrick Worthington. “Two of my uncles named their sons after him. My mom always said he was six-foot-two with blonde hair and blue eyes. He towered over the rest of the family, especially on mom’s side. She said he always loved to make people laugh and be happy. He had an optimistic disposition. There’s that one person in every family who is kind of the glue that wants to keep everybody together. He was a fun and happy person. And, he was just a few days shy of his 19th birthday when he was killed ... about 10 days, I think.”
Worthington said his uncle, Carl Bear, would tell the next generation about walking to the one-room Walnut Hill School with Wayne and their sister, and his uncle, Glen Bear worked with Oscar Riffe to get a marker for Wayne, which was placed in the family cemetery at Zion Hill in Greenup County.
Sgt. Bear’s remains were positively identified Oct. 4 using mitochondrial DNA samples supplied by Worthington and his mother. He died Sept. 4, 1950 in Masan, South Korea near the Naktong River as part of the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter. He was a member of Company F, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, and was awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
By the 1990s, Worthington said family members had theorized that Uncle Wayne’s body simply could not be recovered, or just could not be identified, although he said there “was always that hope.” When asked to submit their own DNA through blood samples, Worthington and his mother, Faye, were happy to cooperate, although he said they did not get their hopes up.
“My mother always talked about it ... about getting his remains, but it was just a wish. We never thought it could be a reality,” he said, adding he was once advised he would have to write a Congressman to get anything done about it. When agencies including the Dept. of Defense began negotiating with the governments of North and South Korea and sending search and recovery teams to recover the remains of unaccounted for U.S. service members, the local family began receiving updates about the ongoing effort, and the remains of thousands that had been recovered and shipped to labs in America for analysis by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
“Even then, we never dreamed that 10 years later they would actually find him,” the soldier’s nephew said. “We all felt it was highly unlikely they would find him, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking ... maybe.”
Once the DNA had been examined and confirmed as that of Sgt. Bear, officials immediately called his little sister, Worthington reported.
“They asked her if she was sitting down and from that she knew they had found him,” he said, explaining his mother called him at work to share the good news. “I was shocked. My mother never calls me at work, so when I got the message I immediately thought something was wrong. I called her back ... she was rather emotional. It was a pretty wonderful phone call.”
Bear’s remains will arrive in Columbus on Nov. 7 and be escorted back Greenup County by members of the Patriot Guard Riders. Interment is scheduled for 2 p.m., Nov. 10 at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North East and is open to the public, with Reed Funeral Home of Greenup in charge of burial. Worthington said their family will be honored to share Sgt. Bear’s services with all who want to honor his memory.
“Anyone who wants to come is welcome to come,” he said.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.