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KIA marine finally home after 69 years

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SALYERSVILLE – After 69 years, a Magoffin County marine was laid to rest in his family’s cemetery, finally home from the Korean War.

Marine Corps Pfc. Ray Palmer Fairchild, 21, of Mash Fork, in Magoffin County, was a member of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, and he was killed in action on November 27, 1950, at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir near Yudam-ni, North Korea, where his remains could not be recovered. 

Ray was the son of the late John H. and Allie Prater Fairchild and the brother of the late Bonnie Fairchild Cantrell. He was also a member of the First Baptist Church in Salyersville.

In July this year the Joint Personnel Accounting Command officially determined that the set of remains designated as Unknown X-13474 Yudam-ni, were Ray’s. 

John Fairchild, Ray’s brother and only immediate family member still living, told the Independent, “Ray was in the drum and bugle corps and was a talented musician, and he could have gone to Korea as a letter bearer. That’s what they told the musicians they could do, but he decided he didn’t want to carry his buddies out and he wanted to fight.”

Ray was in the infantry in Korea for roughly six months with one of the first groups of troops to go in, traveling from the southern part of Korea to the northern part. 

After he died, Ray’s family was notified of his death, but little more information was released.

“When they buried these soldiers in a common grave, they retrieved them later and sorted them out and they were taken to Honolulu, Hawaii,” John said. “Only in the last few years have they really been able to ID them, and they IDed him using dental records and mine and his DNA were a match. 

John, along with his wife and son, traveled to Lexington on Thursday, November 21, when Ray’s body was brought back to the state. Korean War veterans, Korean government representatives and Rolling Thunder members gathered for military services held at the Bluegrass Airport.

“You couldn’t ask for anything better, after all these years, thinking about it. Try that,” John said. “Try waiting 69 years, you know, hoping one day your brother will come home and sure enough, he did. He is.”

USMC Korean War Veteran Jerry McCandless told Mortimer Media Group, “This guy as far as I’m concerned is a brother. All these marines that came tonight, he’s a brother for them. They just wanted to welcome him home.”

McCandless said this whole experience has made him very emotional.

“I’ve cried off and on today because I know what he went through and I’m just glad he’s home,” McCandless said. “I’m pleased that all these people from Korea are coming here to welcome him home.”

Representatives with the Korean government presented John with a certificate and medals, thanking him for his brother’s service during the Korean War.

The Fayette County Sheriff Department blocked every ramp, red light and exit from the Bluegrass Airport to the Fayette County line and fire, EMS and veterans waited to show their respects to this Kentucky marine. Ray was escorted to the Magoffin County Funeral Home by the Salyersville DAV Chapter 15, veterans with the Rolling Thunder and the Magoffin County Sheriff Department Officer Reggie Gosser.

Todd Matonick, the president of Rolling Thunder KY 5 explained that Rolling Thunder is a national organization of 32 years, formed out of New Jersey.  

“We are a local chapter and we have over 90 chapters through the states and we have five in Kentucky,” Matonick said. “Our mission statement is to publicize and educate the POW and MIA issues and lobby with local politicians, as well as Washington D.C. politicians in bringing all our POWs and MIAs home.”

Matonick explained that this was the seventh on the list of missing-in-action soldiers that have come home since 2017, noting that each one has been different.

“It’s very hard to put in words the emotions that get involved because knowing that some of these men have been 70-plus years MIA, from Vietnam, Korea, WWII, we’ve brought them home from all three wars. All three eras. And a day is too long for some of these families to go without one of their loved ones, not knowing what happened to their loved ones. I can’t imagine 50-plus years of not knowing and not knowing where they’re at. It’s unimaginable.”

Full military services were held at the Magoffin County Funeral Home on Saturday, November 23, with burial following in the Fairchild Family Cemetery on Fairchild Branch at Mash Fork, where his mom, dad, sister and grandparents are buried. 

Magoffin County Funeral Home Director Paul Burchell explained that with full military honors, which are only for soldiers missing in action, killed in action or for high-ranking officers, include representatives from each branch of service to act as pallbearers, a 21-gun salute, “Taps,” and the folding of the flag, with everything performed by active duty military.

The family of Ray Fairchild asked Mortimer Media Group to pass along a “thank you” to the DAV, the veterans with Rolling Thunder, the Korean government representatives, the Fayette County Sheriff Department and all the local and other fire, rescue, EMS and law enforcement who helped welcome Ray home.
 

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