This story was published yesterday morning. We’re highlighting it again in honor of Veterans Day.

Ithaca, N.Y. — In 1951, Ithaca native Sgt. Michael James Barra was reported missing in action while fighting in the Korean War.

Barra, 18, would die later that year while a prisoner of war in North Korea. His remains would stay overseas, inaccessible to his family and loved ones.

Until now. More than six decades after he was taken prisoner, Barra’s remains were recovered on Oct. 23, 2014, according to the Bangs Funeral Home.

Sgt. Michael Barra. (Courtesy of Bangs Funeral Home)

The remains are now being returned to his hometown of Ithaca, NY. A mass is scheduled for Saturday, November 22, 2014.

His obituary states that an interment — with “full military honors” — will follow at the Calvary Cemetery in Ithaca.

Several other media outlets around the country have reported recently on similar returns of the remains of fallen American soldiers in the Korean War. But it isn’t yet clear, exactly, what brought about the return.

Barra’s only living sibling said the Department of Defense is expected to issue a statement explaining how the discovery and transfer of the remains transpired.

Sue Shanahan, who is still living in Ithaca, said she is the only one of six original siblings in Barra’s family still alive.

In an interview Monday morning, Shanahan said that she was “shocked” to learn her brother would be returning home after so long. She said DNA evidence had helped confirm that the remains were Barra’s.

“It’s a very emotional time,” she said, “It opens it all up again and takes us back over 60 years.”

Barra was well-liked, sociable — a “people person,” according to Shanahan.

His obituary states that he was on the Ithaca High School Student Council for four years, as well as the captain of the bowling team, assistant manager of varsity basketball and a member of the Dramatic Club.

The family lived in downtown Ithaca, Shanahan said. Barra enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school. He left Ithaca on Sept. 2, 1949, according to his obituary.

Barra went to basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and served at Fort Lewis before going to Korea in August 1950. According to his obituary, Barra was in Company C, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, of the 2nd Infantry Division.

In January 1951, Barra was reported missing as of Dec. 1, 1951. In September 1953, his name appeared on a list of those who remained missing after being imprisoned.

He would later be awarded  the Prisoner of War Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

In Honolulu, Hawaii, Barra was memorialized at the “Courts of the Missing.” His parents have both since died as well as most of his siblings.

“I know my family would have been just amazed at all this – Whoever dreamed?…,” said Shanahan, her voice trailing off.

Shanahan said the remaining family would be “very glad to have his cremains.”

“I guess I’m still trying to absorb all this,” she said. “It’s hard to believe.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.