CALUMET - Hundreds of people gather annually for a Memorial Day service at Calumet's Lakeview Cemetery, but this year's event captured the meaning of the day in a way no other previous service had.
More than 500 people attended a special repatriation and burial ceremony for U.S. Army Pfc. Arthur W. Leiviska, a Calumet native who died on April 20, 1951, as a North Korean prisoner of war. His remains were not discovered until 2010, and Monday, he was finally laid to rest in his hometown - 61 years after paying the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
"The U.S. Army declared Arthur Leiviska killed in action in 1951, but they never kept looking for our fallen comrade until they finally found him and brought him home today," said Chaplain James Hall of the 146th Medical Evacuation Battalion of Grand Ledge, Mich., during the ceremony.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Chaplain James Hall of the 146th Medical Evacuation Battalion in Grand Ledge, Mich., leads an honor guard of drill sergeants from Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood carrying Leiviska’s casket into Lakeview Cemetery. Flanking the procession on both sides were representatives of more than 60 veterans’ organizations.
The sun broke through overcast skies and a bald eagle flew overhead just as a hearse carrying Leiviska's flag-draped casket turned into the veterans-designated section of the cemetery.
Dozens of Patriot Guard motorcycle riders led the funeral procession and hearse past an honor guard rendering salute, and the Calumet High School band opened the ceremony by playing the national anthem.
The honor guard, comprised of drill sergeants from Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood, removed the casket from the hearse and slowly marched it between more than 60 color guard members flanking the aisle and placed it over Leiviska's final resting spot.
"We got the order saying we have to render honors to a fallen comrade and we made it happen. ... We're deeply honored," said Drill Sergeant Lekendrick Stallworth. "Every time you do one of these, you're rendering honors. It's not a detail, not a task. This soldier is entitled to this. The special thing was the turnout of the town. They came out and they paid honors for this soldier. We did the same thing."
Hall gave an invocation before Sgt. Joseph Battisfore, casualty assistance officer for Leiviska's remaining family members, gave a detailed historical account of Leiviska's service, capture, death and recovery of his remains.
Leiviska was a member of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, which was on patrol deep in the Central Corridor of the Republic of Korea when it was ambushed by a large enemy force. Later interviews with other POWs revealed that Leiviska was taken to the Suan Bean Camp in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, where he died. His remains were declared unrecoverable on Jan. 16, 1956, and his family was notified.
The U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii finally received possible remains of American soldiers in 1990 from North Korea, starting a process that ultimately led to Leiviska's proper identification.
"Although grateful for the returns, the U.S. has documented several problems with the remains, most notably misidentification of the remains by North Korea, commingling of remains and limited exhumation location data," read Battisfore from the Feb. 23, 2011, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command report.
Finally, on Aug. 12, 2010, the remains of a soldier who died at the Suan Bean Camp were identified. DNA samples were taken from Leiviska's living family members and a positive match was determined two weeks before Christmas in 2011.
"When I received exciting news that they had found his remains and positively identified him through our DNA that we had sent, I knew that my mother was finally at rest," said Melissa Huuki, Leiviska's niece, during the ceremony. Her mother Kathleen Basto, who passed away on Feb. 20, 2010, was Leiviska's only sibling.
"Now that he is finally at home I am at peace knowing that he is in his final resting place where he belongs," she said.
After Huuki's remarks and a poem by her daughter Sierra Dulong entitled "In Memory of Our Young Soldier," Hall delivered a sermon that included details from Al Rosati, who served with Leiviska and barely survived the attack on their patrol.
"Pfc. Leiviska gave his life in service to his country. For 61 years, his grave stood empty, his remains lost in the sea of the unknown. Though his body was lost, he was not forgotten. His family remembered him. His friends like Al Rosati remembered him. All of you here today remembered him," Hall said. "And his country did not rest until they found him and brought him home. May we honor him by performing our duties with the same dedication that he exemplified to us in his life and service to our great country."
The CHS band then performed a medley of patriotic songs, the honor guard performed a 15-gun salute, Staff Sgt. Laars Helenius played "Taps," and the flag atop Leiviska's casket was folded and given to Leiviska's nephew Roger Basto. Hall closed with a benediction.
"I'm just relieved that it went so well and that we were able to honor Arthur in the best way we possibly could," said Battisfore, who will continue to help the family.
"It all came together as a fitting tribute to Private Leiviska. It makes you feel good that finally, and in an appropriate manner, we have closure," said Gene LaRochelle from the American Legion Post 61 in Calumet, who fought to get a marker put up in Lakeview Cemetery honoring Leiviska in 1998.
"I didn't think we'd ever see this day. I think for me to have him back in our community means a lot," he said, adding that he knew "Junior," as he and others called Leiviska, while growing up in Calumet. "A lot of us who stood in the honor guard, a lot of thoughts went through our minds - our military careers, and if it wasn't for the grace of God, that could have been us."