As a kid, Donnie Dotson only knew his uncle as a faded picture on a wall in his grandmother’s house.
Lamar Eugene Newman, a U.S. Army private, went missing during the Korean War 11 years before Dotson was born. For more than 67 years, all Dotson and his family had were questions and second-hand stories.
“... Everything I got from my family and even from the military, was that he was a good fella,” Dotson said. “He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t cuss. He went into the military trying to get out of poverty and just better himself. He was just trying to do the right thing.”
A native of Griffin, Newman enlisted in the army in 1949. While fighting there in Korea in 1950, he went missing. Letters home to Griffin stopped coming. His family waited years to hear from him. Dotson said his grandparents always held out hope that he was alive. Their best-case scenario was that he was a prisoner of war.
In 1956, the Army still couldn’t find him. They declared Newman non-recoverable and presumed him dead. His parents and siblings passed away, and the burden of wondering what happened to an uncle at war was passed down to nieces and nephews.
Then, nearly seven decades later and with the help of technology, the Department of Defense had good news for Dotson and Newman’s seven other remaining nieces and nephews. The Army had identified their uncle and his remains were ready for a proper burial.
Newman’s remains were flown into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Thursday. Beneath the morning fog, his coffin draped with an American flag was greeted by the Georgia National Guard, the Patriot Guard Riders, the Delta Honor Guard and his surviving family. Tears were shed and his coffin was escorted back to Griffin by men on motorcycles with the Red, White and Blue flying high.
“He died in a foreign land for his country, for our freedoms,” Dotson said. “Now he’s going to be buried about a mile from where he grew up.”
Allen Watson, 59, of Fayetteville, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders organized the mission ride for Newman on Thursday.
The Patriot Guard Riders are a nonprofit organization that can be requested — at no cost to the family — to appear at the funerals or other services for fallen military members, first responders and veterans.
“We do it out of a sense that it’s the right thing to do for those who served,” Watson said. “If there is any way we can provide some ray of sunshine amidst this terrible time in their family’s life, that’s what our hope is.”
More than 7,700 American soldiers are still missing from the Korean War, but with Newman identified, that figure shrunk by one.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Newman went missing on Nov. 27, 1950 during a battle near the village of Kujang, North Korea. He was a member of Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, and taking part in a defensive operation there, the agency said. Newman’s division suffered heavy losses and many soldiers were killed, captured or went missing.
Newman never returned to the Army’s base.
Before Newman left for the war, he asked a woman to marry him. Carol Morris and Newman never shared an altar. She was there Thursday morning when his remains arrived in Atlanta.
“It’s sad, but I’m so glad he’s home,” Morris told Channel 2 Action News. “It’s been a long time.”
Throughout the war, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces and the Korean People’s Amry provided lists of prisoners of war they were keeping to the United States. None of those lists included Newman, and returned prisoners of war didn’t have information regarding him, the Army said.
Following the war, during Operation Glory, the armies from China and North Korea returned the remains of more than 2,900 Americans, however none were associated with Newman and the Army declared him non-recoverable on Jan. 16, 1956.
For the next 44 years, no progress was made on identifying him.
“I just knew him by the stories my mother told me about him,” Dotson said. “This was really about closure for my mother, my uncles, my grandparents, because they always longed to know something about him and have some type of closure. I was trying to fulfill their wishes.”
In October 2000, members from the Army recovered possible human remains from a site about 50 miles south of Kujang, the last known battle Newman fought in. Dotson said the military told him that his uncle’s remains and others were discovered in a rice field by a local farmer working his land.
The remains were sent to a laboratory in Hawaii for identification. Dotson said that at some time in 2001, when his mother and one of his uncles were still alive, the Army came and took DNA samples from them.
Years kept passing. Every now and then, Dotson says, the Army would send letters to the oldest in the family — which eventually became him — that always said the same thing: “Nothing new to report.”
It was in November 2017, Dotson said, that the Army called with some substantial news. The DNA was a match and they had identified his uncle. In January, the Army presented their findings to Dotson and his family.
Because of the small amount of remains, Dotson said the military couldn’t exactly determine when or how his uncle died.
Graveside services for Newman will be held at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Griffin at 11 a.m. on Friday.
The Patriot Riders will be there too. Watson didn’t serve in the military, but his son currently is and his father did. He says being a member of the Patriot Riders is sort of his way of giving back and honoring those who protect the United States.
Watson says the riders in Georgia typically complete two to three missions per week.
“This morning really hit home for me, personally,” Dotson said. “I’ve been to a lot of funerals, but with the flags, and the honor guards and the motorcycles, I’ve never witnessed anything like the procession from the airport to the funeral home.”
Said Watson: “Their family is getting closure. I can’t say it’s good news or it’s positive, because it’s not, but at least they know what happened.”