Because of an editing error Saturday, the number of U.S. battlefield deaths in the Korean and Vietnam wars was compared incorrectly. More Americans were killed in Vietnam. (Published 5/29/90)
He had served in World War II and when the Korean War broke out, Jack J. Saunders of Ogden, Utah -- a tall, skinny "stringbean" of a lad, his sister recalled -- was one of the first to go.
This Sunday, 39 years after the 27-year-old first lieutenant is believed to have died in a North Korean prisoner-of-war camp, he may finally be coming home.
Saunders's remains and those of a young Pennsylvania soldier who disappeared the day before Saunders in fighting near the village of Hoengsong in what is now South Korea are thought to be among the remains of five bodies that the North Korean government has agreed to turn over to a U.S. delegation on the eve of the Memorial Day holiday.
It is the first time since 1954 that North Korea will have repatriated any American remains, although the Defense Department estimates 8,177 Americans are unaccounted for from the three-year war. It raged over the Korean peninsula between 1950 and 1953 and killed 55,000 Americans, more than the much-longer Vietnam War.
"It will be final now," said LaRelle Basoco of San Bernardino, Calif., who married Saunders, her high school sweetheart back in Ogden. "It seems like it has been up in the air all these years because we've had no body. This finalizies it."
"After 40 years, it's a relief," she said yesterday in a telephone interview. "I used to worry about it a lot after I remarried: that he would come back and what would I do, but it's a relief."
Army officials, acting on information released by the North Koreans more than two years ago, said yesterday that they suspect the remains of Army Cpl. Arthur Leo Seaton of Chester, Pa., may also be among those returned this weekend.
The officials said they have been unable to find any of Seaton's relatives and have no idea who the other three servicemen may be.
A knife, buttons and the two dogtags said to be with the remains have convinced North Korean officials that these are, in the words of the country's ambassador to the United Nations, "100 percent American."
If relations with the United States improve, he said, his country will consider looking for more of the 1,200 remains believed easily recoverable.
Basoco, who remarried and moved to California about six years after her husband's presumed death, said Saunders had talked of making the military a career after he was recalled for the Korean War. He wanted to become a medical doctor and thought that the Army would put him through medical school if he agreed to remain in uniform, she said.
Her knowledge of his final days in Korea is slim. "He thought it was dirty over there, and he didn't like it," she said. "He was anxious to get back. He didn't write too much about what the war was like because he didn't want to worry me."
On Feb. 13, 1951, Saunders was listed as missing in action, his family says, after his unit was overrun.
The Army believes he died the following month and has long listed him as among those presumed dead. Insurance and other benefits were paid to his widow.
Since she has remarried, it will be up to his daughter, Kim, the Saunders' only child who was 4 at the time, to decide where he will be buried if the remains can be positively identified by Army forensic scientists.
Seaton, the 20-year-old son of an Arthur Seaton of Chester, was listed as missing Feb. 12, 1951, near the same village as Saunders.
Like Saunders, he was in an artillery unit. He had a sister named Connie V. Seaton, who also lived in Chester, a Philadelphia suburb, but officials at the Army Personnel Command's Mortuary Affairs branch said they have been unable to locate her or any family member.
In a brief ceremony scheduled for the eve of Memorial Day in the United States, a group of North Korean legislators are to give the five coffins bearing the remains to a delegation of eight members of Congress in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
Army officials requested individuals with information about Cpl. Arthur Leo Seaton call the Army Personnel Command's Mortuary Affairs Branch weekdays at 703-325-0944.