WASHINGTON COUNTY — Pvt. Heren Blevins met the beginning of his end on Dec. 2, 1950, when the former Hagerstown resident was captured at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.
Military records indicate Blevins was wounded in the arm and taken prisoner when elements of the 7th Infantry Division were overrun by Chinese communists.
The 19-year-old soldier was taken to a prison camp that the captives dubbed “Death Valley.” Some of his fellow prisoners of war who were repatriated after the war told military officials that Blevins died of malnutrition in January 1951.
Investigators concluded that Blevins’ body was buried in North Korea about 20 miles north of the Chosin Reservoir.
On Tuesday, Army Sgt. 1st Class Lyttleton Yates visited the Washington County home of Lee Blevins to deliver an assortment of his brother Heren’s posthumous military awards, including two Purple Hearts and a Prisoner of War Medal.
Although his brother’s body has not yet been returned to the area, Lee Blevins said he intended to spend much of Tuesday afternoon making funeral arrangements at Rest Haven Cemetery in Hagerstown.
Heren Blevins’ body remained in North Korea until the 1990s, when that country gave the United Nations 208 boxes that were said to contain the remains of U.S. servicemen who were still unaccounted for from the war.
Lee Blevins, who was an infant when his older brother Heren died, said his brother’s remains were among those in the boxes. The Army recently told him that Heren was identified through dental records and DNA testing.
Yates said that after the funeral arrangements are made, Heren’s remains, which include a portion of his skull, jawbone and scapulas, will be taken from their current location in Hawaii to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
From there, they will make the last leg of the trip to Rest Haven to be buried with full military honors.
Lee Blevins said the weight of his brother’s journey home is finally setting in.
“It’s a sad story,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a happy ending ... and if there is to be a happy ending, it’s my country, recognizing with medals and accolades, what he gave up.”
Blevins said Heren isn’t the only one of his brothers who sacrificed during the Korean War.
Lonnie Blevins was killed in action within a few months of Heren. But unlike Heren, Lonnie’s body was recovered and buried in Hagerstown.
“They died real close together — pretty much in the same geographical location at the Chosin Reservoir,” Lee Blevins said.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command recently gave Lee Blevins a blue binder with more than two dozen pages that detail Heren’s last days.
The book includes accounts of former prisoners of war who recall, among other things, their capture and the dire conditions in the prison camp.
Former POW Willie J. Patrick told military investigators that he witnessed Heren’s slow death.
“Was he wounded before capture?” the investigator asked.
“He was wounded on the 29th of Nov. in the arm,” Patrick answered.
“What do you think he died of?” the investigator asked.
“The same thing, malnutrition,” Patrick answered.
Other information in the book includes pictures of Heren’s remains and personal items that were found in his grave. Among the personal items were a Zippo lighter and a spoon.
The book also contains maps showing where Heren’s unit was overrun and a tooth filling that was used to help identify him.
Lee Blevins said he hopes to have his brother buried in a plot near his mother within the next few weeks.
He said he wished his parents and several of his siblings were alive to see Heren finally come home.
“It’s a sad end to a sad life,” he said. “As soon as we get his remains home, we’ll be closer to that end.”