The remains of a Pensacola soldier killed during the Korean War will be interred April 4 in Barrancas National Cemetery, according to the U.S. Army.
Army Pfc. Ithiel E. Whatley was reported missing in action July 12, 1950, at age 19, after his unit was engaged in a fighting withdrawal south of Chochi’won, South Korea, toward the Kum River. There were no recorded or eyewitness accounts of him being held a prisoner of war, and no recovered remains were ever identified as him.
The Army issued a presumptive finding of death Jan. 4, 1954, and declared Whatley non-recoverable in January 1956.
However, a Department of Defense effort to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country led to Whatley's remains being identified in 2022 and his return to Pensacola some 72 years after he was reported MIA.
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The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is an organization whose mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel from past conflicts to their families and the nation. Within this mission, the DPAA searches for missing personnel from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf Wars and other recent conflicts. At present, more than 81,500 Americans remain missing.
The organization's research and operational missions include coordination with hundreds of countries and municipalities around the world.
In Whatley's case, a set of remains, designated X-143 Taejon, was recovered from the Kum River on Oct. 6, 1950, and transported to the United Nations Military Cemetery Taejon, where they were buried with 164 sets of remains previously recovered from the area where Whatley is believed to have gone missing.
X-143 was sent with other unidentified remains to the Central Identification Unit – Kokura in Japan in 1951 but was unable to be identified. The remains were then transported to Hawaii in 1956 where they were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as Punchbowl Cemetery, with the other unknowns from the Korean War.
In July 2018, the DPAA proposed a plan to disinter 652 Korean War unknowns from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In July 2019, X-143 Taejon was disinterred from the Punchbowl and transferred to the DPAA Laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis. Whatley was accounted for by the DPAA Sept. 7, 2022, after his remains were identified using circumstantial evidence as well as dental, anthropological and mitochondrial DNA analysis.
His name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at Punchbowl in Honolulu, along with the others who are still missing from the Korean War. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Who was Ithiel Whatley?
Whatley entered the U.S. Army from Florida and served in M Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. This unit was part of Task Force Smith, the first U.S. ground element to engage North Korean People's Army (NKPA) troops during the conflict.
On July 11, 1950, the 21st Infantry Regiment held defensive positions near the town of Chochi'won, South Korea. An attack by NKPA forces forced the under-strength regiment to withdraw to avoid being surrounded. PCF Whatley was reported missing in action on July 12th, but the exact circumstances of his loss are unknown.
Whatley was among the service members recognized at Eglin Air Force Base’s National POW/MIA Recognition Day ceremony at the Air Force Armament Museum in 2012.
At the time, Whatley's then 78-year-old brother, Nat Mack of Navarre, said he still missed his brother after 62 years.
“We were told he went missing July 12, 1950. It was distressing, to say the least. But after a few years, instead of focusing on missing him and mourning, I started focusing on the good times,” Mack said at the time.
“A lot of people don’t realize how many people are still missing,” Mack added. “Those of us who’ve been through it, we share this feeling of sadness that’s hard to explain, and we all want to make sure they’re never forgotten.”
Graveside services for Army Pfc. Ithiel E. Whatley will be performed by Faith Chapel Funeral Home preceding the interment.
To learn more about the Department of Defense’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at dpaa.mil, facebook.com/dodpaa, or call (703) 699-1420/1169.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Pensacola MIA Korean War veteran Ithiel Whatley headed to Barrancas