View Full Version : Korea casualty coming home

07-04-05, 03:43 PM
Korea casualty coming home
Army Pfc. Lowell Bellar, missing since 1950, will be buried on his birthday next week
By Kelly Kennedy
Tribune staff reporter
July 4, 2005

In 1949, George Bellar Jr. leaned out of the back of a truck and took a picture of his brother.

They were stationed in Japan during the Korean War and used their leave time to visit each other. They grew closer to each other as soldiers than they ever had as children.

In the picture, Lowell Bellar strikes a jaunty pose, one foot on a fence and a smile on his face.

George Bellar never saw his brother again--not even to bury him.

"I was saying goodbye to him, and I snapped this picture," George Bellar, 75, said. "That was the last time I saw him."

Army Pfc. Lowell W. Bellar of Gary is coming home. He will be buried July 15--the day of his birth in 1931 and the day of his enlistment at 17 in 1948--at Temple Lawn in Schererville, Ind.

"He enlisted on his birthday, and he'll be buried on his birthday," said Bellar, who lives in Munster, Ind. "It seemed appropriate."

Lowell Bellar was one of the "Chosin Few," men who served with the 31st Regimental Combat Team in December 1950 at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Just as the Korean War was beginning to turn around, 20,000 Chinese troops overcame Bellar's unit of 3,000 men. More than 1,000 Marines and soldiers are still missing in North Korea from the Chosin campaign, according to a Department of Defense spokesman.

Three weeks ago, an Army colonel called to tell Bellar his brother had been found.

"It just didn't seem realistic that they'd find him after all these years," Bellar said. "I had him repeat what he was saying."

The Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office has worked with the North Korean government since 1996 to bring the remains of soldiers back to their families. In 2001 a joint recovery team found a trench containing 12 skeletons. Using dental records still stored at a dentist's office in Gary, as well as DNA samples from female family members, the unit determined that one of the skeletons was that of Lowell Bellar.

Then, two colonels visited the family. They spent 4 1/2 hours going through a thick report chronicling Lowell Bellar's final days in battle, as well as the excavation of his burial site. He died from blunt trauma, possibly from a grenade because the skeleton is missing an arm, said Patricia Bellar, George Bellar's wife.

"It was just so interesting," she said. "They spend $100 million a year looking for these people who are still missing."

As she paged through pictures of skeletons, maps of the location and drawings identifying missing body parts, she said investigators found buttons, uniforms and dog tags from a soldier who managed to get out alive.

Next, the military will return Lowell Bellar's body and have the coffin opened for a final check before the funeral.

"I never knew this boy," Patricia Bellar said. "George doesn't want to be there. I do. I want to make sure everything is in its place."

For the Bellar family, the find brings closure. But other families who read about the burial in local papers began calling about their loved ones.

"One man called about his brother, wanting to know if we knew anything," Patricia Bellar said. "Another woman called about her fiance. We don`t know anything about the others."

George Bellar is quiet about his brother's death. But Lowell Bellar occupies important corners of George's world.

On a family-room wall, above a playpen holding the latest grandchild, two shadow boxes hold both brothers' medals and unit patches.

"I used to watch for guys with this patch," he said, pointing to the 7th Division insignia. "I ran into a tech sergeant once. He, of course, didn't know my brother, but he told me they had to crawl out of the gun positions to push the bodies out of the way to have a line of sight. He said they were just dying left and right."

A box of books in the basement helps Bellar try to piece together his brother's last days. "There aren't any witnesses because they all died," Bellar said.

But Bellar's last memory of his brother is a good one.

"He was kind of a happy-go-lucky kid, and I was surprised by how quickly he became serious about the Army," he said.

He remembers games played with the neighborhood kids but better remembers the days spent together on leave in Japan.

"I met him at Christmas, and I spent two days with him," Bellar said, then pulled a laminated newspaper photo out of his wallet. "This is the picture I've carried for 55 years."

Two brothers grin. They have beers hidden behind their backs because they didn't want their mother to know.

"He went to headquarters to see if he could get transferred to my unit. But they didn't let him," Bellar said.

George Bellar returned home, but his brother was in one of two understaffed regiments that caught the full force of the 20,000 Chinese soldiers.

"The Marines ran across the convoy, and it was all shot up and a lot of them were dead," Bellar said.

Bellar tried to follow his brother's movements through news clippings.

But the family also had been hearing that the war was almost over and that the troops would soon return home.

In late December 1950, the family received a telegram saying Lowell Bellar had been reported missing. In January came the report that he had been killed in action, but that his remains were missing.

"I'm obviously glad that they found him now, so we could put all of this behind us," Bellar said. "I'm glad they found him while I was still alive myself."