Politics & Government

Korean War-era soldier finally buried in Arlington Cemetery

Members of the US Army Old Guard position the coffin of Army Corporal Robert Schoening during his funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery.
Members of the US Army Old Guard position the coffin of Army Corporal Robert Schoening during his funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery. Cliff Owen / MCT

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY — Under blue skies and with military honors, Cpl. Robert Schoening was buried at Arlington National Cemetery nearly 60 years after his front-line unit was overrun by Chinese troops in Korea and he was declared missing in action and presumed dead.

The second youngest of eight children, Schoening grew up on a Blaine, Wash., farm during the depression and joined the Army at age 17 after being rejected by the Navy. His family remembers him as a fearless teenager with a ready smile, a bit of a tease who often tinkered with his 1926 Model T.

"I felt eventually they would find Bobby, I just didn't know if it would be in my lifetime," his younger brother, William Schoening, 76, Salem, Ore., said in an interview. "We now have our brother home."

In December, his family learned remains found in a burial site in North Korea were his. The U.S. military used DNA samples taken from his surviving brother and sisters to make the identification.

The fates of more than 8,000 U.S. soldiers who fought in the Korean War, including 134 from Washington state, remain unknown. More than 33,000 lost their lives in what is sometimes called the "forgotten war."

In a flag-draped, silver casket, Schoening was buried in a newer part of the cemetery filled with the dead from many conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan. An honor guard bore the coffin to the gravesite as the sound of gun volleys and bugles from some of the nearly 30 other funerals at Arlington every day faded among the hillsides dotted with graves.

"The nation is free and remains free because of the selfless service of these people," Army Chaplin Jason Nobles told the 50 or so people gathered at the graveside.

After a brief ceremony, seven gunners delivered three volleys and a bugler solemnly played "Taps." Katherine Fishbourne, 86, of Wenatchee, Schoening's eldest sister, wiped away a tear.

"A comrade in arms in life he honored the flag," Nobles said. "In death, the flag will honor him."

The flag was lifted off the casket and carefully folded. Six decades after Schoening died, Nobles handed the flag to the eldest sister "on behalf of a grateful nation" and saluted.

Schoening was 18 when he was killed near Hill 222 south of the Kuryong River and east of the "Camel's Head" in what is now North Korea. A member of Company C, 65th Combat Engineer Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, Schoening and his comrades were among the northernmost U.S. troops as 180,000 Chinese launched a surprise attack in late November of 1950.

Just weeks earlier, Schoening had received a flesh wound in his thigh. It just missed a bone. If it had hit the bone, he would have been shipped home. Instead, he was shipped back to the front.

The family was devastated when a telegram arrived informing them Schoening was missing in action.

"We were just numb," said Bill Schoening.

"We hadn't thought too much about his going," said Mary Emma Lind-Speidel, 84, Lynwood, Wash., the other surviving sister. "It was a police action or something."

Two other brothers had fought it World War II and survived, including one who was at Pearl Harbor.

Schoening's remains were discovered in August 2000 at site above the Kuryong River excavated by a joint U.S.-Democratic People's Republic of Korea team. While it took awhile, the military determined the remains were those of Schoening and four other soldiers.

Though their memories of Bobby Schoening had dimmed over the years, he remained a part of his brother and sisters lives especially at family gatherings.

"I used to dream he would walk in the door," said Fishbourne.

When the funeral was over, Bill Schoening, Katherine Fishbourne and Mary Emma Lind-Speidel, seemed reluctant to leave the gravesite. As a lone soldier stood watch over the casket, they lingered seemingly absorbed in their thoughts of long ago.

"I was very emotional when I first heard they had found him," said Lind-Speidel. "I am still emotional."

Bill Schoening may have been closest to his brother because they were closest in age.

"After all there years, we finally have closure," Bill Schoening said.