Korean War MIA soldier coming home to Arcata

Elden Charles Justus

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – On April 19, Arcata resident Lois Justus Hyman went out to her car to get her phone, and found on it a voice mail from her husband. He said the U.S. Army had called and told him that the remains of Lois’s father had been discovered, recovered and identified. 

“I was dumbstruck,” Lois said. She had no memory of her dad, who left for the war when she was just two years old. At first she thought it was a mistake, since the family had heard nothing about him since he went missing in action in December, 1950. 

Sgt. Justus. Photos courtesy Lois Hyman JustusBut it was true. Elden Charles Justus, lost in battle during the Korean War nearly 69 years ago, was coming home.  

Lois’s brother Jack, a Eureka resident, remembers a little more about their father – family dinners, taking his mother on ski trips, and the last time he saw Elden, when the family saw him off at the airport as he headed to Korea. “I never thought anything would come of this,” he said.

Now, a lot will come of it. Army Sgt. 1st Class Elden C. Justus’s return will include full military honors beginning with his arrival in Sacramento next Monday, July 8 and culminating in his interment in Greenwood Cemetery Thursday, July 11. 

Along with Sgt. Justus’s remains came a wealth of detail about the circumstances of his loss in battle, and of his recovery.

Dept. of Defense press release

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced on June 14 that Army Sgt. 1st Class Elden C. Justus, 23, of Eureka, California, killed during the Korean War, was accounted for on April 16, 2019.

In late November 1950, Justus was a member of Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division. Approximately 2,500 U.S. and 700 South Korean soldiers assembled into the 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT), which was deployed east of the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, when it was engaged by overwhelming numbers of Chinese forces. 

A Defense Dept. map showing the area of the Hill 1221 battle in which Elden Justus was killed.

By December 6, the U.S. Army evacuated approximately 1,500 wounded service members; the remaining soldiers had been either captured or killed in enemy territory. When Justus could not be accounted for by his unit at the end of the battle; he was reported missing in action as of Dec. 6, 1950.

From April 28 to May 10, 2004, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a predecessor to DPAA, conducted joint recovery operations with the North Korean People’s Army (KPA,) in the vicinity of the Chosin River. The recovery team excavated two sites, recovering the remains of at least five individuals. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea,) unilaterally turned over the remains to the UNC Military Armistice Commissioned, where they were subsequently accessioned to the laboratory.

To identify Justus’ remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and autosomal DNA (auSTR) analysis.

Today, 7,652 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Using modern technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously returned by Korean officials, recovered from Korea by American recovery teams or disinterred from unknown graves. Justus’ name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, in Honolulu, along with the others who are missing from the Korean War. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

Justus will be buried July 11, 2019, in Arcata, California.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at dpaa.mil, at facebook.com/dodpaa or call (703) 699-1420. Justus’ personnel profile can be viewed at dpaa.secure.force.com/dpaaProfile?id=a0Jt0000004OWUOEA4.

An image from the briefing book depicting the foxhole grave in which Elden Justus's remains were located.

Details and honors

On June 8, two representatives from the DPAA traveled to Arcata to meet with Lois and Jack. They brought with them thick briefing books which go into deep detail about the circumstances of Elden’s loss, recovery and identification.

Justus was lost during a series of horrific battles deep inside North Korea near the Chosin Reservoir. Allied casualties were heavy during the fight for Hill 1221, which was needed in order to provide cover for U.S. Marines. 

Young Elden Justus.

The exact circumstances of Justus’s death aren’t known, though his fractured bones showed indications of “blast trauma,” likely from an exploding mortar or artillery shell.

His remains were found in a foxhole grave, commingled with those of four other U.S. soldiers and one South Korean soldier. It’s unlikely that he died at that spot, but very close. It’s probable that the bodies were exposed to the elements for a time immediately following death, including temperatures as low as -40 degrees.

Also recovered with numerous bits and pieces of military equipment, buttons and other material used along with DNA testing to help with identification.

The investigation began 15 years ago, and was only just completed. “We were stunned to learn that it started in 2004,” Lois said.

Making it especially poignant is that Elden’s wife and the children’s mother, Ruth, passed away just one-and-a-half years ago. She voiced her regrets to the DPAA reps, wondering aloud, “Why couldn’t this have happened before she died?” They told her that they hear that frequently.

“Mother wanted this so much,” Lois said. As a result, she said, “Jack and I agreed right away that we would do what our mother and grandmother want us to do.”

That will include participation in an extensive schedule of honors and ceremonies planned for their father. 

Jack Justus and Lois Hyman Justus. KLH | Union

On Monday, the plane bearing Elden’s remains will be met at Sacramento International Airport by a military honor guard, and a hearse from Arcata’s Paul’s Chapel. 

A detachment of American Legion Freedom Riders will accompany the hearse for part of the journey, and another one will pick it up later. The route home has been designed to pass by several Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks Lodges, members of which wished to come out and honor Justus. 

On reaching the Humboldt County line, a police escort will meet the cortège. Justus will lie in honor at the Eureka Elks Lodge Paul's Chapel in Arcata on July 9 and 10.

On July 11, Justus will be interred with full military Honor Guard at Greenwood Cemetery. A reception at the Arcata Veterans Memorial Building will follow. (Lois and Jack plan to attend this Friday’s American Legion Post 274 monthly dinner, which is open to the public, and meeting at the Vets Hall, beginning at 5 p.m. They plan to bring the briefing books supplied to them by the DPAA for people to look at.)

Lois and Jack are happy to honor their mother’s wishes for their father. “He was always a part of our lives,” Lois said. “This is what she would have wanted.”

Read Elden Justus’s full obituary at madriverunion.com.

This story was corrected to indicate the location where Elden Justus will lie in honor on arrival in Humboldt.


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