‘He Loved Wyoming’ — Fallen Korean War Soldier Returns to Kaycee
Next week marks 69 years since U.S. Army Corporal DeMaret Martson Kirtley left Kaycee to fight in Korea. It was 1950.
In December of that year, Kirtley found himself attached to an artillery unit when the Battle of Chosin Reservoir broke out. It was one of the deadliest of the war.
Cpl. Kirtley was reported missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950.
After the war, no Americans reported seeing Kirtley as a prisoner of war. The army declared him dead in 1953.
The United Nations, North Korea and China agreed to return each side's dead in 1954. Kirtley was one of 416 Americans who could not be identified after the exchange. He was buried along with the other "unknowns" at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. For more than 60 years, he was designated as X-15900 Operation GLORY.
In May, 2017, Kirtley was disinterred and sent to a laboratory to be identified. By the end of 2018, he was identified.
And so began the long journey back home.
Kirtley was flown from Hawaii to Billings. After that, he made the journey to Sheridan under the watch of several Montana and Wyoming law enforcement agencies. On Saturday, he finally arrived home in his native Kaycee.
Zena Husman, Kirtley's niece, recalled being told stories about her fallen uncle. Before he shipped out and headed into battle, Kirtley looked over the Wyoming prairie and remarked that it's the type of place worth fighting for.
"He loved Wyoming and made the ultimate sacrifice for his country," Husman said.
Until the day she died, Kirtley's mother never lost hope that her son would be brought back home. She'd already lost two sons to influenza.
Husman said if Kirtley’s mother and siblings were still alive to see his return, they would have been forever grateful.
"You're home now, where you belong, where you were loved all these years," Husman said. "You're where you're meant to be, where you'll never be forgotten.
Speaking at the funeral in Kaycee Saturday, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon describe thinking of the hell Kirtley must have endured is a "sobering thought."
The Korean war has often been called America's forgotten war, but not in Wyoming, Gordon said.
"These were very special men who make me proud to be an American," Gordon said. "This day is a day every American can take pride in knowing that we will never forget those who protect our nation."
After Saturday's ceremonies, Kirtley was laid to rest next to his mother in a cemetery just outside of Kaycee.
They were finally, forever, reunited.