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Merle Simpson waited 60 years for his buddy, Paul Marshall Gordon, to make it back to Grant County.
“It means everything to be here today because he’s coming home,” said Simpson, now a resident of Greensburg, Indiana.
Paul’s family and friends waited patiently in the hot sun on Tuesday as his remains arrived from Atlanta with a full military escort.
They had all been waiting and hoping that the day would come when they could return the Grant County native and Korean War casualty home for a proper burial. They’ll get that opportunity when Gordon’s funeral takes place at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 20 at Sherman Baptist Church.
Paul wasn’t old enough to join the military, but did it anyway. He went missing on January 7, 1951 after his unit came under heavy fire while trying to gain control in Korea. The unit, H Company, 2nd Battilion, 38th Infantry Regiment, had to withdraw and when they re-grouped 33 members, including Paul, were unaccounted for.
Paul remained classified as MIA (Missing In Action) and was later re-classified as a POW (Prisoner Of War), a fact his family learned a few months ago when the military came to Grant County for a de-briefing.
At the meeting, Dorothy Gordon Gayheart, Paul’s only remaining sibling, signed off to accept her brother’s remains so that he could be returned to his hometown for burial.
Gayheart lay her weathered hands gently on the back of the hearse where Paul’s casket was placed when it arrived at the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati International Airport at 10:52 a.m. on June 17.
The unidentified remains were kept in Hawaii at the National Cemetery of the Pacific until they were positively identified after the Korean government turned over 15 crates of remains in 1992. Eventually Paul’s remains were found in all 15 boxes, along with 37 other service members.
Portions of his skull, arm bones and both leg bones were recovered and returned fulfilling the hope of his family and friends.
His oldest friend, Simpson, said he and Paul were starting guards on the Crittenden High School Basketball team. The two teenagers were inseparable.
“He and I were close,” Simpson said. “We were always together.”
Simpson said Paul was easy going and fun to be around.
“I never saw him mad,” Simpson said. “He was just one of the nicest guys.”
He recalled one basketball game in Owen County when Paul had the ball and a much larger player on the opposing team knocked him down attempting to take the ball away.
“I mean he completely flattened him,” Simpson said. “We got Paul off the floor and he took his free throw, but he wasn’t upset about it and he probably should have been.”
The childhood friends even enlisted together. Simpson went to leadership school while Paul decided not to.
Before being shipped to Okinawa, Simpson made a stop at Ft. Lewis, Texas to visit his lifelong friend.
“We had a grand time,” Simpson said, laughing about the fun the two men shared.
When Simpson learned that his buddy was missing, he didn’t know what to think.
“It just chilled me. I thought maybe there was hope they would find him,” Simpson said.
After Simpson’s military service was over, he visited Paul’s mother, who told him that the family had been told that Paul might have escaped from the POW camp and they’d send more information later.
Paul’s parents, Doll and Urie Gordon, as well as his siblings passed down his story to their children and children’s children in hopes that Paul would some day be brought home.
Darla Barber, of Muncie, Indiana, is the daughter of Paul’s oldest sister, Evaline Sydnor.
She grew up hearing stories about Uncle Paul.
“I was little, sitting on my grandma’s knee and she’d talk about Paul,” Barber said. “You don’t really think about those stories until you get older. Boy, I sure wish my mom was here for this day.”
Paula Gordon, who is named for her uncle, said her father, Aurtha Ray Gordon, never gave up hope that he would be able to bury Paul before he passed.
“You always think your little brother is something great. It is something that leaves a void you just can’t close. I just want to get his bones and bury him before I die. I got a plot for him up in the cemetery,” Aurtha said when he was asked by the military to give a DNA sample to help identify Paul’s remains.
Mickey Sanders traveled from Port Orchard, Washington for her uncle’s funeral.
“I was just two months old when he was captured,” she said. “I wouldn’t have missed this day.”
Sanders is Aurtha’s daughter, making her Paul’s oldest niece.
Her grandson was born just a couple of weeks ago.
“It’s fitting that our newest family member was just born and we’re now laying Paul to rest,” she said.
Sanders named her daughter after Paul so his memory would live on.
“He’s never been forgotten,” she said, describing herself as a “tough, old bird.”
“It was such a miracle that he was found and brought back to us,” she said. “It was if a little weight was lifted off my heart, I think because my father was always worried that he’d never be found.”