WHAT: The homecoming of a fallen Texas GI who went missing after being deployed to Korea in 1950.
WHO: Eighteen-year-old Pvt. Hershell Riggs of Rio Grande City and the family, friends, and strangers who welcomed him home and laid him to rest.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: In the summer of 1950, the U.S. entered the Korean War. Eighteen-year-old Herschel Riggs of Rio Grande City had graduated from high school the year before and joined the Army shortly after. In snapshots sent back home to his mother and sister, Riggs documented his adventures in Kansas and Japan before becoming part of the first group of Americans deployed to Korea.
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Just three weeks into the war, he went missing.
During the Battle of Taejon, Riggs and his fellow soldiers in the 24th Infantry Division fought to defend their headquarters as North Korean troops closed in. At some point during the fierce three-day struggle that ensued, Riggs went missing.
His mother and sister were alerted of the news via telegram, and refused to give up hope, even when the Army declared him dead in 1953. Without a body to identify, Riggs became one of more than 7,500 Korean War soldiers who are unaccounted for. Years passed, and Riggs’s mother and sister passed away. But according to the San Antonio Express-News, his legend lived on in the minds of his friends and relatives.
Then, last fall, the American Graves Registration Service provided new hope. With the help of DNA testing, samples provided by Riggs’s niece and nephew meant that an unidentified soldier marked “X-155 Taejon” was positively identified as Riggs.
During Memorial Day weekend, he finally had his homecoming. Friends, family members, fellow veterans, and even strangers gathered at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Pearsall to remember him and honor his service. Riggs, who was promoted to private first class posthumously, was buried with military honors in Pearsall, near his sister’s grave.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, a Rio Grande City native who served in the 24th Infantry Division during the Iraq War, delivered a touching eulogy for Riggs. “We say that Herschel was missing in action for 69 years before we identified him and brought him home. But I believe there is comfort in knowing that he was not alone. As Shakespeare says, ‘Those who shed their blood with me this day shall be my brother.’”