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Soldier killed in Korean War identified as man from East Boston

CBS Boston 9/24/2022 Juli McDonald

NEEDHAM - A local family is getting closure after one of their relatives went missing in action during the Korean War.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Friday that U.S. Army Cpl. Joseph J. Puopolo, 19, of East Boston, who died as a prisoner of war, was accounted for on Aug. 23, 2022.

"As a kid one of the things we knew was we had a war hero in our family. We always believed we'd find him," said Richard Graham, of his great uncle. "It's a really big thing that's happening; Our family is very happy to know we're going to get this closure."

Joseph Puopolo's last living sibling is 99-year-old Elizabeth in Winthrop. She remembers her teenaged brother for his sweetness.

"We know he was very kind. My grandmother tells a story about how her sister was pregnant with a baby and really wanted ice cream. He said let me go out and get you that ice cream," Graham recalled hearing.

Stories of his sacrifice have been such a gift for Puopolo's loved ones. They finally have the opportunity to honor his bravery.

"Joseph Puopolo was a prisoner of war. He was captured and he was a war hero. He fought against North Korea and Chinese forces. These guys fought until the last bullet. They didn't just surrender. They ran out of ammo. They were cut off from the lines and they had no possible way of defending themselves once their guns were gone," Graham said proudly.

And, to honor his brotherhood. This homecoming would never have happened, if not for his fellow soldiers' careful cataloging of where they laid Joseph Puopolo to rest in North Korea in 1951.

"In his last moments his own soldiers were able to do that for him," Graham said.

The family expects Joseph Puopolo's remains will be flown from Hawaii to Logan airport in October. A military and State Police escort will stop at his old East Boston address before a burial with full military honors in Malden.

More information from the The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency:

In late 1950, Puopolo was a member of C Battery, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division Artillery, 8th U.S. Army. He was reported missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950, after his unit attempted to withdraw from Kunu-ri, North Korea, on Nov. 30, following the Battle of Ch'ongch'on. In 1953, four POWs who returned during Operation Big Switch reported Puopolo had been a prisoner of war and died in February 1951 at Prisoner of War Camp #5.

In the late summer and fall of 1954, during Operation Glory, North Korea returned remains reportedly recovered from Pyoktong, also known as Prisoner of War Camp #5, to the United Nations Command. None were associated with Puopolo. One set of remains disinterred from Camp #5 returned during Operation Glory was designated Unknown X-14430 and buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

In July 2018, the DPAA proposed a plan to disinter 652 Korean War Unknowns from the Punchbowl. In December 2019, the DPAA disinterred Unknown X-14430 as part of Phase Two of the Korean War Disinterment Plan and sent the remains to the DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for analysis. 

To identify Puopolo's remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis. 

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