President Obama recently honored the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, which killed more than 2.5 million people but still has been dubbed the “forgotten war.”
On Tuesday, one of those killed was remembered. His body was flown to Norm Mineta San Jose International Airport, so that his remains – 62 years later – could be reunited with his family.
"It's a godsend," said Ron Smith, the nephew of U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Joseph David Steinberg of San Francisco, who died on April 30, 1951 at Camp Bean in North Korea. Smith spoke as the plane carrying his uncle touched down in Silicon Valley.
Steinberg had been marched to the camp, taken as a prisoner of war, during the three-year war that ended in 1953. And until recently, he had been one of the approximately 7,910 Americans still missing. Obama said at a Saturday ceremony in Washington, D.C., that the government is working diligently to account for everyone who fought in that war and performed heroic and "shining deeds."
Steinberg, thanks to DNA testing, was one of the government's success stories.
In 1991, the Republic of Korea turned over the remains of 11 soldiers, including Steinberg's, to the United States. His remains have been held at a military facility in Hawaii since then, awaiting identification.
His niece, Marla Baisa of San Jose, and other relatives had all previously undergone blood testing to track down her uncle’s remains. She received a call from the Army in March.
“Thanks to modern DNA technology,” she told NBC Bay Area, “this is like a miracle.” She said for years, the family has been waiting patiently to hear what happened to her late uncle, who died at the age of 31 from malnutrition and exposure after being captured while fighting near Hoengsong, South Korea.
Her uncle had only known war in his adult life, a man who grew up during the Great Depression and had a penchant for baseball. According to his family, Steinberg served in New Guinea and the Philippines under General Douglas MacArthur during World War II after being drafted into the peacetime Army before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
While he was in Japan, the Korean War broke ou and his unit was the first to be deployed. He was a member of Battery C, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division when he was killed. Baisa said that because of his rank, her uncle had likely sacrificed his life for his troops.
For his leadership and valor, the Army awarded Steinberg with the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
His funeral service with full military honors is scheduled for Thursday at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno. He will be buried alongside brothers, Charles Francis Steinberg, Jack Willard Steinberg and William Theodore all WWII veterans.
Baisa said the return of her uncle’s body is bittersweet.
“I’m happy it’s over with,” she said, adding that the sad part is that she is the only living relative left in the family to see the homecoming happen. “I’m hoping he knows that he’s home.”