DOUGLAS — More than 70 years after being killed in the Korean War and declared missing in action, Sgt. 1st Class Frank G. Vejar was finally laid to rest Nov. 17 next to the graves of his father and mother in the veteran’s section of Calvary Cemetery.
Vejar was born April 12, 1931, in Douglas to José Vejar and Elodia Gonzales Valdez. He enlisted in the Army in 1947 at the age of 16. It is believed he was killed in action on Nov. 30, 1950, on the Korean Peninsula near the Chosin Reservoir.
According to Vejar’s sister, Anita Rose, her mother received notice her brother was listed as missing in action in January 1951, and was presumed dead on Dec. 31, 1953. The death wasn’t verified until April 14, 2020. That’s when the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced tests of about 5,000 remains turned over to the United States by North Korea during 2018. Tests showed one of those remains to be Vejar’s.
“I remember when my mother got the news that he was missing in action,” Rose said. “I was standing next to her when we got the news. I now have a peace of mind knowing that (Frank) is finally home and so close to my mom and dad who are resting right behind them. For him to come home after all these years is surreal.”
Vejar’s remains arrived at the Tucson International Airport Nov. 7 and the Fort Huachuca Select Honor Guard was on hand to receive them and place them into a vehicle from Brown Page Mortuary. The vehicle was escorted to Douglas by Douglas police officers and firefighters, who passed under a large American flag at the fire department’s Ladder 1 as it entered town.
Prior to Vejar’s internment at Calvary Cemetery, a mass was held at St. Luke’s Catholic Church, the same church in which his parents were eulogized when they died years ago.
At the mass, Vejar’s nephew, Richard Olivas, said there was little information about Vejar and his grandmother didn’t want to talk about him. Olivas and other family members spent over a decade searching for Vejar, hoping, praying, one day they would receive news of his whereabouts.
Vejar was buried with full military honors, which included the playing of taps and the traditional 21-gun salute, courtesy of the Fort Huachuca Honor Guard.
According to a previous story regarding Vejar that appeared in the Douglas Dispatch in April 2020, Frank started school in Douglas but did much of his growing up with his godparents in Bloomington, California, near Los Angeles. He returned to Douglas as a teenager, working briefly for the Douglas Dispatch and Western Union before enlisting in the Army. Vejar’s mother didn’t want him to join but Vejar threatened to get his best friend’s grandmother to sign the underage permission form, and so his mother relented.
Vejar received training and assignment to the heavy mortar company of the 31st Regimental Combat Team, part of the 7th Infantry Division. On Nov. 27, 1950, the 31st replaced a Marine regiment on the east side of Chosin Reservoir. The fighting withdrawal on Nov. 30 came under such strong Chinese attack that of the unit’s almost 3,300 men, only 385 got across the frozen reservoir unwounded.
Vejar’s younger brother, Efraim Valdez, said his mother passed away in 2010.
“I’m so happy we were finally able to put him to rest,” Valdez said. “I’m sure my mom is very happy, too.”
Rose and Valdez commended the Douglas community for their support.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Rose said. “Everyone has been so supportive. What a great honor for my brother. I don’t even know where to begin thanking everyone.”
“This is such a great day for my brother and our family,” Valdez added.
Douglas Mayor Donald Huish was one of many who showed up for the mass and burial.
“I take great comfort in knowing we finally got one of our heroes home and now he’s resting where he should be,” Huish said. “We pray for peace for his family and all those who are still searching for their loved ones, that someday they might find them also.”