FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — More than 60 years after Pfc. Anthony La Rossa went missing while serving with the U.S. Army in the Korean War, the Brooklyn native's remains have been buried next to the mother who went to her grave never knowing his fate.
"It was very difficult for her. He was only a teenager and would write in his letters home how he was missing his mom's spaghetti. She struggled the rest of her life," said his niece Donna La Rossa following a gravesite service Monday at St. Charles Cemetery on Long Island.
"We felt like it would be best if they were together," she said.
About two dozen relatives, along with a modest contingent of veterans from the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War posts, attended the service, which included an Army honor guard and drill team.
Officials say 18-year-old Anthony La Rossa was serving in the Army's 2nd Infantry Division when his unit was attacked in South Korea by Chinese forces in February 1951.
La Rossa was reported missing in action two days later. His remains were among those turned over to the U.S. by North Korea in the early 1990s, but they were only recently identified.
Donna La Rossa said the family kept scrapbooks of photos of her uncle, whose nickname was Buddy, but very little was known of his fate. Relatives believe he may have spent time in a North Korean prisoner of war camp; a statement from the military said reports that he died in captivity were never substantiated by any eyewitness accounts of American POWs who returned.
After his disappearance, letters sent to him by his mother, Marie, and brother, Donald — Donna's father — were returned unanswered. Marie La Rossa died in 1976 at 73. Donald, who has also died, successfully fought in the 1990s to have Anthony La Rossa's name included on a list of casualties at the Korean War memorial in Washington.
She believes it was during that time that military officials took a sample of her father's DNA that eventually helped them find a match to identify her uncle's remains.
Before the burial, a funeral Mass was held at a nearby Roman Catholic church.
"I think in so many ways we're not just honoring him, but we're honoring so many, literally millions of young men and women who have time and time again stepped forward and decided they had an obligation to serve, an obligation to give back to this country they love," said the Rev. James Lisante, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa.
According to the Defense Department, North Korea turned over 208 boxes believed to contain the remains of more than 400 U.S. servicemen from 1991 to 1994.
Today, 7,867 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. The military continues its work to identify some of the remains it received two decades ago.