Born between the two Great Wars in October 1931, Sgt. 1st Class Gilberto Sanchez was destined for heroism in a third. The 19-year-old combat medic was serving with the 32nd infantry regiment, 7th infantry division in North Korea when he, like hundreds of other soldiers of the U.S.-led United Nations’ coalition, disappeared in December 1950, in the middle of the horror that was the Chosin Reservoir battle.
For more than 20 years, DNA experts sifted through over 200 boxes of human remains to try and identify soldiers and provide families closure. Last fall, Sgt. Sanchez’s family was one of those that received a call from military officials in Washington, D.C. His remains had been identified.
On Friday, those remains were laid to rest with full military honors at the Fort Sam Houston cemetery in San Antonio. More than 64 years after he was first declared Missing In Action, this Texan hero could finally stay home.
To get a sense of what Sgt. Sanchez, 19, and fresh out of Texas, would have gone through in Korea, here’s an excerpt from an interview with U.S. marine Lee Bergee, a Chosin Reservoir battle survivor. This interview was first published in the Military History magazine in 2006.
“Several times, Chinese infiltrators would tear a long slit in the medical tent and try to get inside, shooting anyone who got in the way. One ambulance, on the road between Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri, was machine-gunned viciously … Yes, the medical personnel were heroes, in the truest sense of the word. They were under constant fire; there was no such thing as a hospital. The corpsmen had to keep the hypodermic syringes taped in their armpits to keep the liquid in the syringes from freezing solid, and they stuffed morphine ampules inside their mouths to keep the doses from freezing. One corpsman told me, 'By the time you would cut through the different layers of clothing to reach the wounds, your hands would be numb from the cold.’”
Pablo Sanchez, now 95, and one of Sgt. Sanchez’s older brothers, remembers the day military officials informed the family that Gilberto was missing. “I couldn’t even talk for a while, I was just so stunned, I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Despite the fact that he waited more than half his life for a chance to say goodbye to his kid brother, Pablo Sanchez said he never gave up hope. “I was getting reports monthly and we kept on asking.”
On Friday, Sgt. Sanchez’s family was presented a Purple Heart in his honor and he was also honored this week on the floor of the Texas House by New Braunfels Republican Doug Miller. “To hear the story and hear about this resolution, how our forces were overwhelmed by large numbers can only remind me of the times that I heard stories about Korea and the Korean War. It was a terrible conflict and one that many young men and women gave their lives to, to defend our freedom,” said Miller.
In Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all flags in the state be flown at half-staff in honor of Sgt. Sanchez.