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Korean War veteran's remains to be returned to Washington County

Lee Blevins plans to bury his brother with military honors in the family's plot at Rest Haven

July 16, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Lee Blevins of Hagerstown holds two black-and-white portraits of his late brothers, Lonnie Gene Blevins, left and Heren Kline Blevins, at right. The remains of Heren Blevins were found in the area of the Death Valley POW camp and turned over to the United Nations by North Korea.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Lee Blevins held a letter Monday that had remained sealed since his mother wrote it 63 years ago.

The intended recipient was his brother, Heren, who was captured in 1950 while serving in the U.S. Army during the first year of the Korean War.

Blevins said he had no idea what the letter would say as he opened the envelope, marked on the outside with a raspberry colored return-to-sender stamp that read, “Verified Missing in Action.”

“Do you have warm clothes?” Blevins’ mother, Carrie May, asked her son in the letter. “Do you have cigarettes?”

The pencil-written letter continued with her promise that she intended to send him candy and T-shirts.

Blevins said he was only 2 years old when his family learned that Heren died of malnutrition in captivity.

Another one of his brothers, Lonnie, was killed that same year fighting the Chinese in Korea.

Blevins said Lonnie’s body was sent home and buried at Rest Haven Cemetery north of Hagerstown.

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But the location of Heren’s remains remained a mystery until July 6, when he received a certified letter from the U.S. Department of the Army, Blevins said.

“Available evidence establishes that your brother, Pfc. Blevins, died in early December 1950 while in the ‘Death Valley’ POW camp at the northern end of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea,” the letter said.

The two-page document said that in the 1990s, North Korea gave the United Nations 208 boxes said to hold the remains of U.S. servicemen who were still unaccounted for from the war.

Heren’s remains were among those found in the area of the Death Valley POW camp, the letter said.

They were identified later through laboratory analysis, dental records and DNA testing.

“I was shocked. Sad. Happy,” Blevins said. “It’s a puzzle solved.”

Michael Mee, chief of the Identifications Past Conflict Repatriations Branch at Fort Knox, Ky., said Heren Blevins’ remains are in a laboratory in Hawaii.

He said he intends to meet with Lee Blevins in the near future to discuss Heren’s return to Washington County and funeral arrangements.

“It could be as early as three weeks after I do my briefing,” Mee said of the time it might take to ship home Blevins’ remains.

Lee Blevins said he was still trying to process the news, but he’ll probably bury his brother with military honors in the family’s plot at Rest Haven.

“This fellow went away thinking he was doing the right thing for his country,” Blevins said. “Now, he’s going to get the celebration he deserves. That’s what makes me happy .... I want him to have fireworks. He has that coming.”

Heren and Lonnie Blevins graduated from Hagerstown High School and were accomplished guitar players before they went to Korea, Lee Blevins said.

He said he believes they might have gone on to be country and western musicians had they lived.

Blevins said his biggest regret is that his mother, who died in 1983, won’t be able to see her son finally laid to rest.

“She was a strong person, but it affected her,” Blevins said. “Why couldn’t my mother be alive to hear this? She’ll never know.”

Editor’s note: This story was edited at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, to correct the name of a local man who died during the Korean War and whose remains will soon be returned. His name is spelled Heren Blevins on the memorial on the Washington County Courthouse. 

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