An American hero has returned home.
After 67 years of uncertainty, the remains of Sgt. First Class Lester R. Walker, killed during the Korean War, were received by his remaining family. Walker was laid to rest April 21 in Ruggs Bluff Cemetery in Downsville, Louisiana.
Walker was a member of B Battery, 82nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, one of the first infantry units ordered to the Korean Peninsula in July 1950, to combat the quickly-advancing North Korean People’s Army (KPA).
On Sept. 1, 1950, the KPA penetrated the 2nd ID front along the Naktong River, cutting the division in two. The ensuing battle was brutal, with heavy losses sustained by American forces. North Korean and U.S troops remained locked in combat along the Naktong River for several days.
Ultimately, the North Koreans' offensive capability was largely destroyed, and the U.S. troops resolved to hold their lines, barring further attack. Walker, age 19, was listed as missing in action Sept. 3, 1950, during some of the heaviest fighting.
Days later, Walker’s mother Ruth, received the notification that her son was missing in action – a notification dreaded by countless parents across all American conflicts.
Because of the lack of information as to Walker’s whereabouts, the Army issued a presumptive finding of death Dec. 31, 1953, posthumously promoting him from sergeant to sergeant first class. And thus began his family’s years of wondering.
Three years later, in 1956, the Army declared Walker’s remains non-recoverable – the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (north) did not initially grant Americans access to North Korea.
Technological advancements over the years have made possible the identification of unknown remains previously deemed unidentifiable, as has the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which provides the fullest possible accounting of missing American personnel to their families and the nation.
As of June 2017, more than 7,800 American Soldiers remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Walker is no longer one of them. After years of painstaking investigation and anthropology work, Walker’s remains returned to the care of his surviving family members.
A definitive determination of the exact date of Walker’s death is not possible, however, his cause of death is certified as “multiple ballistic injuries.” Eye witness accounts state that two American prisoners of war were brought to a mountain village by communist forces in September 1950.
The POWS were briefly held in the village before their captors escorted them to a neighboring mountain. Villagers heard several shots fired and later found the bodies of two Americans. The villages buried the remains; it is surmised – and research solidifies -- that one of those Americans was Walker.
Walker is entitled to the following awards and decorations: Prisoner of War Medal (posthumous), Purple Heart (posthumous), Army Good Conduct Medal (posthumous), National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with one bronze service star, United Nations Service Media, Republic of Korea-Korean War Service Medal and the Republic of Korea-Presidential Unit Citation.
Among family members attending the interment were Walker’s brother, 81-year-old Roy Walker from West Monroe and his nieces, Brenda Estis, from Houston, Texas, and Deborah Good from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Walker, the last survivor of eight siblings, said he thought the day his brother came home would never carrive. “I’m very thankful. This gives us closure. I think this is the reason the Lord has kept me around so long,” he said. “My big brother was out there for many years, and finally he’s home among family.”
A military honors team and casualty assistance support was provided by personnel from Fort Polk, Louisiana.