A Hero’s Return: Baldwyn native to receive military burial after being MIA for 71 years

Full military funeral services are planned for Saturday, January 15, 2022 at Asbury Methodist Church just north of Baldwyn.

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William “Shorty” Cox, right, of the U.S. Army Casualty Office, points out an item in the report he provided to J.B. Williams and other surviving family members of Jimmy Rowland. News photos/Jason Collum

Baldwyn-native Jimmy Rowland was just 19 years old when he found himself engulfed in the Korean War. In July 1950, Rowland and his fellow infantrymen came under heavy fire during battle. Following the battle, he was reported missing in action. In January 1956 he was declared unrecoverable.

Now, more than seven decades later, Rowland will receive a hero’s welcome and funeral with full military honors as his remains, finally identified this year, will be brought back to Baldwyn for burial on January 15, 2022, at Asbury United Methodist Church.

Though none of Rowland’s siblings are still alive, surviving nieces, nephews and other family members met with representatives of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) on Monday at Asbury UMC to learn what the agency believes happened in Pfc. Rowland’s final days, how his remains were finally identified, and to plan the ceremony that will be held to bring closure to a family who has waited for a day they thought would never come.

J.B. Williams, Rowland’s nephew who is the oldest and closest living relative and with whom the DPAA has been coordinating Rowland’s return, said there are no words to describe, really, what this day means for him and his family.

“I really can’t tell you because we’ve been thinking about him so long and been missing him so much,” Williams said. “We just couldn’t imagine what happened to him. And we just couldn’t wait to get him home. We would like to have had him home alive, but this is the best we could do. So, we’re going to recognize him whenever he gets here.”

William “Shorty” Cox, right, of the U.S. Army Casualty Office, speaks to surviving family members of Army Pfc. Jimmy Rowland, whose remains were finally identified after more than 71 years and will receive a burial with full military honors in January in Baldwyn. News photos/Jason Collum

Rowland’s remains were finally officially identified and Rowland was declared accounted for on November 5, 2021. 

William “Shorty” Cox, of the U.S. Army Casualty Office, spoke in depth to the more than a dozen family members who attended Monday’s meeting. Cox detailed what the Army believes happened in Rowland’s last days, why it was so difficult to determine Rowland’s identity, and how that identification was finally made.

Rowland was a member of Heavy Mortar Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. Cox described to family members how Rowland’s regiment came under heavy fire in July 1950, while fighting North Korean forces along the Kum River north of Taejon, South Korea. Cox said at the time Rowland was reported as injured in battle and was being treated at a field station. However, in the days following that battle Rowland’s whereabouts became unknown. Cox said it is a strong possibility North Korean forces had come across Rowland and others being treated at the station and executed them rather than take them as prisoners of war. 

On July 16, 1950, Rowland was declared missing as he was never found, nor were any remains recovered that could be identified as belonging to him. He was declared non-recoverable in January 1956.

Cox said a report issued by DPAA and provided to the family states that in February 1951, four sets of remains were recovered at the foot of a bridge west of the Seoul-Taejon main supply route and south of Taepyong-ni. Three of the individuals were identified as casualties from the 19th Inf. Reg., but the fourth was unable to be identified. Those remains were designated Unknown X-418 Tanggok and were later transported with all of the unidentified Korean War remains and buried as Unknowns at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.

It wasn’t until July 2018 that the wheels started turning on a possible identification of Rowland’s remains. DPAA historians and anthropologists began working on a plan to disinter and identify the 652 Korean War unknown burials from the Punchbowl. X-418 was disinterred March 4, 2019, as part of Phase 1 of the Korean War Identification Project and transferred to the DPAA Laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

Cox said the process of identifying unknown soldiers from World War II, the Korean War and even the Vietnam War has been made more difficult because of a lack of DNA records specifically from those individuals. Cox said there were other issues that made identifying the remains more of a challenge, including how they were preserved originally when they were removed from Korea and taken to Japan.

When he was originally declared missing, Cox said the Army reached out to Rowland’s father to see if there were any dental records or broken bones that might be used to help identify Rowland at that time. However, there were none. Since that time, though, the DPAA has come to use not only dental records and anthropological analysis, but also mitochondrial DNA, which is DNA passed on through the mother and carried by every child she has.

Cox said that process took time and money, and that the DPAA spends more than $2 million each year on research to identify the remains of unknown soldiers.

Now, Rowland’s remains, which have been housed in Hawaii, will be flown back to the mainland in January, in a casket that will include a new uniform laid out inside for him. A soldier will accompany Rowland’s remains throughout the entire trip and to the funeral home. Visitation with the family will take place on Friday, January 14, 2022 at Waters Funeral Home in Baldwyn, with the full military funeral slated to begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15. He will be laid to rest at Asbury Cemetery.

For Williams, the event will bring closure to what has been a major hole in their lives.

“It’s a wonderful closure,” Williams said. “We just wish that his brothers and sisters could have been here, especially his mother and daddy, because all of them are gone. The day he got killed or went missing was the same day that his mother died and neither one of them knew that the other one was passed away.”