Closure for MIA’s family

WARREN – The vivid memory of a faint knock at the door still haunts the days and nights of a city family, but after 63 years of searching, answers are finally being revealed.

Initially declared missing in action and thought to be deceased, Warren native Pfc. James Thomas Roy “Jimmy” Holmes was recently identified through the help of DNA evidence and the diligent spirit of those he left behind.

It was Christmas Day 1950 when two U.S. Army officers paid a visit to 891 Third St. in Warren to deliver the devastating news. The missing soldier’s brother, Cliff Holmes, recalls his mother’s reaction.

“They spoke to her and when she came back, she was real quiet and didn’t say anything,” Holmes remembered during a recent interview at his Warren home. “My dad just went in the other room altogether. Finally, she told us that she had gotten some news about Jimmy, that he was missing in action.”

Five months later, a telegram confirmed the family’s worst fears.

The Army believed the 19-year-old soldier had died in a concentration camp in North Korea near the Chinese border.

“I had never heard my mother cry until she opened that door,” Holmes’ sister, Elaine Bryant, said. “She just screamed, ‘Jimmy’s gone.’ I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”

While the Army had declared Holmes dead, for a grieving family attempting to pick up the pieces, there was one problem … none of his remains were ever identified.

Not only did this mean the soldier was never given a proper burial, but the question of “what if” was never completely answered.

“Sometimes they get captured and stay over there,” Cliff Holmes said. “They never come home, but they’re not dead. That was in our mind, too.”

Four years ago, a task force within the U.S. Department of Defense called the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command contacted the soldiers’ three living siblings, Cliff, Elaine and Martha Holmes Price.

The siblings were asked to submit DNA samples to the Joint POW / MIA Accounting Command, which they would put into the system and compare against remains found across Korea.

“We had to swab our mouths,” Martha said. “That’s when they started notifying of the meeting that they hold annually.”

At the these yearly meetings, usually held in August, the task force would update the family on any new findings and where the process of identification stood.

“They wanted us to know that they were going to never stop looking for them,” Martha said.

Finally, after decades of wondering and waiting, in early January the Holmes family received the closure they had been both anticipating and dreading.

North Korea had excavated on the site of a Korean War era concentration camp and sent the U.S. military about 400 boxes of remains from soldiers lost in the conflict.

According to the report issued by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s Office, among the shattered bones and fragments, a right radius was found matching the provided DNA.

There was no doubt, this was Jimmy.

“When they took ours and matched it against the bone, they had found, it was 100 percent,” Martha said. “They told us usually there are discrepancies here and there when it comes to DNA. Ours was 100 percent right on for Clifford and I.”

Now the family can finally put their fallen hero to rest.

“It meant everything because I kept believing that he was alive,” Martha, 83, said. “I finally realized when they came up with this that I had to let it go and accept it.”

His cause of death remains unclear, but since Holmes was likely taken prisoner at Heartbreak Ridge, North Korea, and then moved north, the family has been told he could have been intentionally killed or, more likely, starvation.

“They didn’t have any food and it is likely they would have fed their families with the little they had and not the prisoners,” Martha speculated.

Holmes will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington this May. All three remaining siblings will be on hand.

“This is 63 years in waiting,” Cliff said from his Third Street home.

The military will pay for the family’s plane fare and stay.

“They never forgot about us and kept looking,” Elaine said. “I’m thankful for Jimmy finally coming home and the military finding his remains.”