The youngest of seven boys, he left his Cullman home in 1949 to fight in Korea, that complex war in which our troops “answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met,” as the Korean War Memorial in Washington reads.
He came home just last week.
Cpl. Larry M. Dunn, who served in the U.S. Army 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion B Company 1 BN Infantry Division, was removed from the belly of an airplane at Huntsville International Airport last Wednesday and his flag-draped coffin escorted by the Patriot Guard to Cullman.
Last Saturday, Dunn was buried with full military honors at Mount Carmel Cemetery alongside his father, mother and several of his brothers.
“Amazing,” said John Dunn, one of Cpl. Dunn’s nephews, who was just an infant when his uncle went off to war. “It was one of the most fantastic things I’ve ever seen. I don’t know of just one (snapshot moment from the service). It was just all very touching, just sitting there and thinking, ‘Well, he’s finally home.’”
Much legitimate criticism can be leveled at our military’s operation and leadership. Treatment of returning veterans has been inefficient and insufficient. The litany of Veterans Administration horror stories is a disgrace.
Still, an entity that wants to make sure its veterans do indeed finally get home, even 66 years later, deserves appreciation.
Al Whitaker, an Anniston native and longtime Huntsville newscaster, beautifully covered Dunn’s story for WHNT, News 19.
“One of the most emotional things I’ve been involved in in a long time. It was impossible not to be,” he admitted to me.
Whitaker, on behalf of the family, even reached out to the Patriot Guard to request the motorcycle escort down I-65 to Cullman. All along the route, cars pulled over in respect. People stood at intersections and along the roadways of Cullman, saluting or hands over their heart, as the hearse carrying Dunn drove along.
“Such a small thing really, a little respect for a young man who gave everything when his nation called,” as Whitaker said in one of his reports.
Larry Dunn was 17 when he shipped out, following the footsteps of four of his brothers into the military. On Dec. 1, 1950, in a battle at Sonchu, North Korea, Dunn went missing. Soon, a telegram arrived at the Dunn’s home. His father, John Paul Dunn, read the tragic news to the family: Larry was missing in action.
Cpl. Dunn was officially declared dead in 1953. The mere mention of his name would usually bring tears to John Paul Dunn, who had lost his wife to tuberculosis in the 1940s.
Through the years, the family made inquiries through the Department of the Army, the Pentagon, local congressional representatives and even the White House.
Finally, some news arrived in June. Cpl. Dunn’s remains were identified. His military records were provided to the family.
He had been captured and lived three years as a prisoner of war before dying in captivity. At the end of the war, North Korea allowed remains of the dead prisoners to be handed over to the U.S. However, most couldn’t be identified and some were simply buried in a mass grave.
Dunn was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, below a marker that simply read “Unknown.” With new technologies, the Department of Defense has been able to exhume bodies and identify them. Thus began the process to bring Cpl. Larry Dunn back home.
It was “closure,” John Dunn told me, and there was relief in “mainly just seeing him in the ground, and at home and at rest,” he said.
Cpl. Dunn deserved every measure of the military honors that accompanied his homecoming and his burial.
So, too, did a family left for so long with a mystery and a vacuum in their lives.