Gary Clayton was just two years old when he last saw his dad. Wednesday, the El Reno man welcomed him home again — as a hero.
The remains of Army Sgt. 1st Class Alfred G. Bensinger Jr. were returned to the family who so long ago gave up hope that he would ever be found.
Bensinger is believed to have died in 1951 after having been captured with members of his troop as part of Company D, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion.
He was captured in northwest Korea while trying to hold off enemy forces and providing cover for other troops to withdraw.
He is believed to have died in a prisoner of war transient camp known as the Hofong Camp.
Bensinger’s remains were among those recovered in April 2005. They were identified as Bensinger in July.
A full color guard welcomed him home at Will Rogers World Airport just after noon Wednesday.
Clayton, Bensinger’s son, along with Clayton’s wife were among those attending the solemn service.
Bensinger’s remains were escorted to Smith and Turner Mortuary in Yukon by the Oklahoma City Police Department. Members of the Patriot Guard were part of the escort.
During a POW/MIA service at the funeral home, American Legion Post 160 commander Eddie McFadden said Bensinger’s sacrifice would not be forgotten.
Clayton said despite not remembering his father, there is still a deep emotional connection.
“He disappeared from my life when I was three years old, and much later I found out what happened to him and that the chances of him coming back were slim to none. I go through my life with someone who I said had no meaning to me because I never knew him. But as I got older, I realized that wasn’t true,” he said. “There is still an amazingly strong connection there, and some of the larger decisions I have made in my life were based on his sacrifice and what he did for this country.”
Clayton was notified last summer about the DNA match. Still, when the flag-covered coffin was removed from the plane, the emotions returned.
“Intellectually, you have something you have prepared for, or you think you are prepared for. You think emotionally you would be ready, but I wasn’t. This whole thing is amazing to me. I am just in shock about the whole thing, yet I’ve had all this time to prepare and to think about it. It is major in my life,” he said.
Friday, Bensinger’s remains were escorted to the Fort Sill National Cemetery in Elgin where he was interred with full military honors. A departure service was held Friday morning that included representatives of both the Yukon and Mustang American Legion posts.
Bensinger received a rifle salute before the family began its journey to Fort Sill. He was escorted by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol as well as the Patriot Guard.
“It’s amazing you can have a love for somebody you never really knew, but I loved my dad,” Clayton said.
More than 7,700 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, officials with the Department of Defense have said.
Bensinger’s name has been recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.