By Karen Zautyk
In May 1951, a young Army corporal from Kearny, John W. Lutz, was reported missing in action in South Korea. Last Wednesday, a month short of the 60th anniversary of his disappearance, he was finally laid to rest, with full military honors, at Arlington National Cemetery. And the flags in Kearny flew at half-staff.
Thanks to the efforts of the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, the remains of the Korean War soldier were identified using dental comparisons and mitochondrial DNA. The DNA matched that of a niece.
Lutz, the Department of Defense reported, had died of “malnutrition” – we will call it starvation – in a prisoner of war camp two months after he was lost in combat. He was 21 years old.
According to Defense, Cpl. Lutz, a member of the 1st Ranger Infantry Co., had been part of Task Force Zebra, a multinational unit comprising U.S., Dutch, and French forces. From May 16 to 20, 1951, Task Force Zebra was attacked and isolated into smaller groups.
Lutz was reported missing “while his unit was attempting to infiltrate enemy lines near Chaun-ni, South Korea, along the Hongcheon River Valley,” the DPMO stated in a release issued last week.
“After the 1953 armistice,” the release noted, “surviving POWs said Lutz had been captured by enemy forces on May 19, marched north to a POW camp in Suan County, North Korea, and died of malnutrition in July 1951.”
Between 1991 and 1994, 208 boxes – believed to contain the remains of 200-400 servicemen – were turned over to the U.S. government by North Korea. Included with one of those boxes were North Korean documents indicating that the remains inside had been “exhumed near Suan County,” which correlated “with the corporal’s last known location.”
According to Defense, “Analysts from DPMO developed case leads with information spanning more than 58 years. Through interviews with surviving POW eyewitnesses, experts validated circumstances surrounding the soldier’s captivity and death, confirming wartime documentation of his loss.”
Larry Greer, a spokesman for the Department of Defense POW/MIA Office, told The Observer that the forensic lab work in the Lutz case had been completed in July 2009, but before results of these MIA investigations are released, the work is sent out for peer review by three independent forensic scientists.
Last week, the identification was made official.
The Observer would like to tell our readers something about this man who was a son of Kearny, whose name is inscribed on the Korean War Memorial in the little park on Kearny Ave. and for whom one of the Kearny Fire Department‘s engines was dedicated, but thus far attempts to find surviving relatives or friends have been futile.
According to the Pentagon, the niece whose DNA helped make the identification lives out of state, wishes to remain anonymous and wants no contact with the media.
What little we did learn from the Defense Department was this: Lutz was born Oct. 25, 1929. His mother’s name was Clara Lutz, and he had a sister, Marion Lutz, both of whom resided at 146 Johnston Ave., which we presume was also the corporal’s home address.
The Observer will continue to try to put a face on the name of Cpl. John W. Lutz, a young man who left our town more than six decades ago to serve his country and who died a terrible death half a world away and whose mother spent her life never knowing what happened to her son. We will be scouring our archives, and we invite anyone who has any information about this hero to contact us.
According to Defense, “More than 2,000 servicemen died as prisoners of war during the Korean War. With this [the Lutz] accounting, 8,001 service members still remain missing from the conflict.”
Greer told us that from 1996 to 2005, American search teams were allowed into North Korea “to do remains recovery operations.” However, “they told us where to go and they escorted us.“ Suan Camp, where Lutz died “is one place we tried to go,” he said. But the North Koreans “have not yet allowed us to go to the areas where the [POW] camps were.”
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO web site at www.dtic.mil/dpmo.