After being reported missing in action in Korea 71 years ago, Army private first class Phillip T. Hoogacker will finally be laid to rest next week.
His remains were among four bodies recovered in a group grave in the fall of 1954 as part of an agreement between the United Nations and North Korea and China to recover soldiers killed in the war. But it would take nearly 67 years before he was positively identified, which happened earlier this year thanks to a DNA match with his sister, Helen Fennel of Brunswick and a brother in Wisconsin.
They submitted DNA samples in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until his remains, which have been held with other unidentified remains at the National Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu, were transferred to a laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam that a breakthrough happened. Dental, anthropological and mitochondrial analysis helped identify the remains.
Fennel and other family members will attend Hoogacker’s funeral, with full military honors, on July 23 in Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He will be buried next to his mother.
The last time Fennel said she saw her older brother was at her mother’s funeral in 1950.
Fennel said her older brother, 23, had just completed Army basic training and was given a short leave to attend his mother’s funeral and memorial service. After the funeral, Hoogacker received orders to Korea, where he was assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion 29th Infantry Regiment.
He was reported missing in action on July 27, 1950 last seen receiving first aid for a minor shrapnel wound. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency believes he was captured by the Korean People’s Army and forcibly marched to Pyongyang, where he died as a prisoner of war.
Fennel said family members were notified by Army officials in mid April that her brother’s remains had been identified.
“I hollered,” she said. “Everybody reacted differently.”
Fennel said Army officials apologized when they called to break the news for not showing up in person, but COVID-19 restrictions were still in effect.
“They would have come and told us at the front door,” she said.
Fennel said she still has an old photograph of her brother hanging on her refrigerator as a reminder, and she never gave up her lifelong quest to have her brother’s remains returned.
Fennel said her brother could have been buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but her family believes a site next to his mother is more appropriate.
Fennel said family from Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan will attend the funeral.
“I believe it’s going to be very emotional,” she said. “I was 10 years old at the time, but I never forgot him.”