SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- A Korean War veteran was laid to rest in Santa Maria today more than 70 years after he was reported missing in action.
The funeral Army Private First Class Don Dowler was held in the original section of the Santa Maria Cemetery with full military honors.
"It's a great honor," said Sergeant First Class Nathan Harper, Casualty Assistance Officer. "I mean, an overwhelming feeling of rejoice to finally get some closure to the family, for them to get some closure on the matter, and be back home and finally laid to their final resting place."
The nearly one-hour service was attended by numerous local veterans, as well as community members.
"Today is bringing home my brother. I consider everyone that served a brother from a different mother, so to me it's actually very emotional because it's closure," said Michael Stadnick, with the Santa Maria Valley Honor Guard. "We have someone who died in the service of his country in 1950 and we're able to have the family be part of honoring him for serving our country, so to me, it's a very emotional day."
For his service, PFC Dowler received numerous awards, including the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
According to the Department of Defense (DOD), PFC Dowler was reported missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950, after his unit was attacked by enemy forces as they attempted to withdraw near the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea.
The DOD said following the battle, his remains could not be recovered.
Nearly seven decades later, after the historic July 2028 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, North Korea turned over 55 boxes that purportedly to contained the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War.
The remains were delivered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Aug. 1, 2018, and were then sent to a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency laboratory for assessment and identification.
Through extensive state-of-art analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence, PFC Dowler's remains were positively identified.
"It means a lot to the family especially because they always had a question in their mind of what happened," said Vietnam veteran Martin Scott. "At least to be able to do that and then it's also an honor to our nation for bringing our veterans home that have been lost in conflict in other nations, so it's a healing process that we need to have. It's an honor to do this."
The DOF said Dowler’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with the others who are still missing from the Korean War.
Following his return, a rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Dowler was born on Jan. 26, 1932 in Clarinda, Iowa. The American Flag will be flown at half-staff in his home state of Iowa today on the day of his burial.
He was buried in Santa Maria since his next of kin, his younger sister, lives in the area.
"They (his family) were very pleased this could happen and how it happened and to finally have some closure for the family, they were very pleased," said Harper.