Remains of missing San Diego soldier found after 6 decades

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SAN DIEGO – The remains of a decorated war hero from North Park will soon return home.

Army Major Jack Griffiths was a decorated soldier who fought in World War I and II. In 1949, he left his family behind for the military conflict in the Pacific, where he was captured 66 years ago. According to his family, the Major never came home as he died in a war camp and was buried overseas.

Michael Draper is the neighbor of Major Griffiths' son Joe. He reached out to FOX 5 to tell the story on behalf of the family.

“I’ve known the Griffiths my entire life…Joe’s dad was the real deal,” said Michael Draper. “His father had gone missing, but that’s all anybody had really known.”

A month ago, Griffiths' story of 60 years changed.

“It was like a gut punch. Joe was visibly upset. He said his father’s remains were found,” said Draper. “He died of malnutrition and pneumonia. [He was] treated badly."

Griffiths died one year after his capture. He was buried in Camp 5 just like the family thought. In 1954, through “Operation Glory” an exchange between the United Nations and Communist forces remains of people who died in the war were recovered.

“Most of those bodies were returned to the US, but it was a jumble of bodies not identifiable,” said Draper.

The recovered remains known as X-14411 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, were exhumed in 2013.  Three years later, a DNA analysis of the remains matched Griffiths' sisters and brother.

“They were able to say, 'we’re 99% sure,'” said Draper.

Draper said the Major's son, Joe Griffiths, was overwhelmed by the finding and asked him to tell their story.

“He said, 'I can’t do it, I just can’t do it,'” said Draper.

For almost his entire life, Joe only knew his father was missing.

“Joe had to become the person that he is without his father… without even knowing where his father was,” Draper said.

Over 60 years later, Major Griffiths will return to San Diego and be buried at Fort Rosecrans Ceremony. His burial is scheduled for January 11 at 1 p.m.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said more than 80,000 Americans remain unaccounted for and 7,764 are from the Korean War. The United States is the only country that works daily to identify the unknown.