Saying goodbye to 'Joey,' a soldier is laided to rest

WAHPETON, N.D. - A local teenager who disappeared during combat 57 years ago reached his final resting place Saturday as family and old friends gathered to say goodbye.

WAHPETON, N.D. - A local teenager who disappeared during combat 57 years ago reached his final resting place Saturday as family and old friends gathered to say goodbye.

The military funeral for Pfc. Joseph Meyer Jr. brought closure to "an emptiness" that has plagued his family for decades.

Meyer, who enlisted in the Army in 1949, was 18 when he went missing in action in Korea the following year. He was presumed dead in 1953.

His funeral was bittersweet for his three sisters.

"It's kind of a sad day. It brings back memories. My brother was quite a guy," said Emma Wolfe, now 80, of St. Maries, Idaho.


After decades of wondering what became of their little brother, his sisters were told in early March that his remains were found in a mass grave in North Korea.

Meyer's remains returned to North Dakota on Thursday.

A statement issued last week by the Defense Department said Meyer died from "intense enemy fire" in a battle near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.

Wolfe, the oldest child in the family, was 22 the last time she saw her brother. She remembers walking down the aisle with "Joey" at their sister Alice's wedding and recalled how patriotic he was.

Her emotions overcame her after her brother's interment.

"I only had one brother. Now he's gone," Wolfe said with tears in her eyes.

The family had a church service for Meyer after he was presumed dead in 1953, said his sister Rose Moore, 77, of Doran, Minn.

She was touched to see how many people came to her brother's funeral Saturday.


"This is more emotional for me than anything, to see all these people here," Moore said. "People have been really great to come and support us."

Sister Alice Pausch, 79, of Hankinson, N.D., said the day helped give her closure.

"There's just an emptiness there and now we know," she said.

Meyer's silver coffin sat at the front of the nearly full St. John's Catholic Church during the service. A photo of him at 17 in his military uniform was placed on the altar.

The Rev. Dale Lagodinski said they will never know the circumstances of Meyer's final moments.

"I'm willing to bet that Joe remembered the embrace of his parents, the love of his family, even in that terrible moment," he said.

Lagodinski spoke of Meyer and the other men and women who are willing to give their lives for the country's freedom - some of whom haven't yet come home to their families like Meyer.

"May we remember the hundreds of thousands of those who will never know this comfort," Lagodinski said.


Meyer was born Oct. 19, 1932, and attended school at St. John's and Wahpeton High School.

Several old friends attended his funeral to pay their respects. Classmate Bill Novetzke of Sioux Falls, S.D., said Meyer was a "good-hearted fellow."

"When Joe enlisted, I thought about going, too. He left high school and the rest of us stayed. Unfortunately, he didn't come back until now," Novetzke said.

John McCarty came from El Segundo, Calif., to say goodbye. McCarty said Meyer was like a big brother to him.

"He taught me the things you need to know to be a man," McCarty said.

This included how to drive, smoke cigarettes and fight - all part of manhood in the 1940s, he said.

McCarty grew emotional as he thought of his old friend.

"He knew that last day that we talked. He knew the risks (of joining the Army)," McCarty said.


Charles Lillibridge, now 79 and living in Fargo, also attended the funeral. He was a few years older than Meyer but knew him and has thought of him throughout the years.

"It's remarkable - after all these years - they could bring him back," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560

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