LA HABRA (CBSLA) — It took decades for a fallen soldier to get home to La Habra.
Army Cpl. Albert Quintero went missing during an ambush in North Korea nearly 70 years ago.
His remains have finally come home for a full military burial.
“The military saluting him, watching the casket, I can’t put any words into it. It was just a beautiful feeling to see them honor him,” said Quintero’s niece Sylvia Arviso Ramos.
As Ramos and her family stood on the tarmac at LAX and watched the remains of their uncle finally return home in a flag-draped casket, they felt immeasurable pride.
“Our hearts were just incredibly full. I remember grabbing my sister’s hand feeling the joy of the moment,” Sylvia said.
A hero’s welcome for then 23-year-old Quintero. In November of 1950, he was one of 2,500 U.S. soldiers deployed east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, when they were ambushed by Chinese forces. By December, Quintero was reported missing in action. Later, the Army declared him deceased.
“The description of the journey that he took I felt the fear, I felt the sadness,” Sylvia said.
As the years went on, Sylvia and her sisters were determined to find out what happened to their uncle. So they submitted their DNA hoping that one day his remains would be found and ultimately identified.
“It’s a match. It was like, I just felt a heaviness in my heart was finally lifted off,” Sylvia said.
In the 1990’s, North Korea returned over 200 boxes of servicemen’s remains to the U.S. In September 2001, a joint U.S./North Korea recovery team excavated a location in North Korea and recovered more. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used DNA analysis to identify Quintero’s remains. His family could now finally give him the proper burial he deserved.
“Words can never explain the feeling, watching my sister be presented with the flag,” Sylvia said.
Quintero was buried with full military honors May 14 in Long Beach. Sylvia told Kim pictures of their uncle were lost during a move but these sisters say having his remains — and reminders of his sacrifice — are more than enough.
“We’re celebrating him; we’re honoring him. It’s a beautiful feeling,” Sylvia said.