By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — Army Cpl. Joseph Norman Pelletier will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery Tuesday, more than 65 years after the Berlin man died in a North Korean POW camp.
Raymond Pelletier said he was shocked late last year when he received a call from the Army’s Repatriation Unit reporting that his brother’s remains had been identified.
“It was unbelievable,” Pelletier said.
Just last September he had a tombstone commemorating his brother dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery.
At the time, Pelletier said he hoped to recover the remains of the brother he knew as Norman but said he feared it was unlikely.
"Work continues to try to make that happen even though its likelihood seems relatively impossible at the time,” he wrote at the time. He added, however, that he remained optimistic that “maybe chance will strike a favorable note again."
In fact, his brother’s remains have been at the Joint Base in Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii since 1992. The Defense Departments POW/MIA Accounting Agency said between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned 208 boxes of commingled human remains to the United States that contained the remains of at least 400 U.S. servicemen. Norman Pelletier’s remains were in a group of 15 boxes from the North Hwanghae Province, where he was believed to have died.
Using advances in technology, the defense department said it continues to identify the remains of Americans missing in action while serving their country. There are 7,757 Americans still unaccounted for from the Korean War.
The call from the defense department came while Pelletier was flying to California to spend Christmas with his daughter. He arrived to find a message on his cell phone that his brother’s remains had been identified.
“I was shocked,” he said.
In February, a member of the U.S. Army repatriation branch visited Pelletier’s house in Hampton, Maine, and spent four hours briefing the family on Norman Pelletier’s service in Korea as well as the retrieval and identification of his remains.
Pelletier said he and two other brothers, Gary and Robert, had given DNA samples years ago and the DNA from the remains matched all three brothers. Dental and anthropological analysis also matched his brother’s records. Finally, found among the remains, was Norman Pelletier’s dog tag, an eyeglass lens, and part of an eyeglass frame.
Pelletier said the dog tag was a pleasant surprise for him. He said his brother’s name is clearly visible on it and he plans to put it in a special display case.
His family has chosen to have Norman Pelletier buried at Arlington National Cemetery where he already has a memorial headstone. That headstone will be replaced with a new one in a different section of the national cemetery. His three surviving siblings; Raymond, Robert and Gary, will attend Tuesday’s burial, which will include full military honors.
Pelletier said he is comforted to have his brother’s remains at Arlington where family members, now scattered across the country, can visit.
“I’m so pleased for him. He deserved it so much,” said Raymond Pelletier.
Norman was the oldest of seven children born to Alfred and Sadie Pelletier. The family lived on Burgess Street.
Norman Pelletier enlisted in the Army just after graduating from high school. He had wanted to drop out of high school to enlist but his parents insisted he graduate first. Raymond Pelletier said it was a decision that haunted his parents all their lives.
The following August, Norman Pelletier was sent to Korea as a radio operator in the 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.
Within a month of landing in Korea, Pelletier’s actions had earned him a bronze star for valor at the Battle of Yongsan. In early February 1951, his unit was supporting Republic of Korea Army against units of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces in an area known as the Central Corridor in North Korea. The CPVF attacked the Americans on Feb. 12, causing them to withdraw south to Hoengsong. Pelletier never reported in and he was declared missing in action. He was just 20 years old.
After the war, Pelletier's name appeared on a list provided by the CPVF and Korean People's Army as a prisoner of war. Returning American prisoners reported that Pelletier died sometime in April 1951 at the "Bean Camp” from malnutrition.
A retired professor of French and former associate director of the Canadian-American Center at the University of Maine, Raymond Pelletier has spearheaded the effort to recognize his brother’s heroics and recover his remains. Pelletier said he was not quite 8 years old when his oldest brother enlisted, and his memories are few. As the years went by, he said he grew to feel not enough had been done to recognize his brother’s sacrifice. After he retired, Pelletier said he realized there was a gap in his life that he needed to fill. While he has learned much about his brother’s service, Pelletier said he is not done. He is currently reading David Halberstam’s book on the Korean War, “The Coldest Winter” and hopes to contact a former prisoner who was with his brother. He also plans to provide copies of documents and material on his brother to the Berlin and Coos Historical Society.