In 1950, Ray Kirby Lilly was a 17-year-old corporal in the U.S. Army, deployed to fight in Korea. Now after seven decades, Lilly is finally coming home to West Virginia.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced on Friday, March 15 that it had identified the remains of Lilly, a soldier from Matoaka, West Virginia, who died during the Korean War. 

His family has been notified and Lilly is set to be buried in Princeton, West Virginia. 

It’s been a long journey to identify Lilly. In Nov. 1950, Lilly was a member of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, and saw combat in the early months of the Korean War. His unit served as a blocking unit to cover the withdrawal of others during a fight near Unsan, North Korea with Chinese forces. They were cut off, surrounded and believed captured. Lilly was declared missing in action on Nov. 2. 

According to a story with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Lilly joined the Army in May 1950, going to fight in Korea not long after that. When he was listed as missing in action, he was only a few weeks shy of turning 18. Returning prisoners of war later said that they saw Lilly, alive but in a prisoner of war camp. 

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The military determined that Lilly died either in January or February 1951 while in a prisoner of war camp. His remains were buried in the camp, but later returned to the United States. One set of American remains, dubbed “Unknown X-14682,” were given back to the United States in 1953 and buried in Honolulu, Hawaii, although none could be identified as Lilly’s for some time. Scientists with the DPAA used historical records, dental histories and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis to determine that one set of remains from Unknown X-14683 was Lilly. 

His remains were identified in September, but DPAA only announced the news on Friday. However, Lilly’s family was notified last year and his sister and other family members were interviewed about the news in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in the fall. 

Lilly was one of the tens of thousands of American servicemembers listed missing since World War II. The DPAA works on both trying to locate where one’s remains might be, and also identify remains as a specific missing American servicemember. The organization also works to notify families of the deceased and help them make burial arrangements. 

As a service member listed as missing in action, Lilly’s name is marked on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (also known as the Punchbowl) in Hawaii. His name on the monument will be given a rosette next to it, signifying that he has since been identified. 

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