U.S. troops emerge from tandem helicopters onto an open field during the Korean War.
Hulton Archiv—Getty Images
October 26, 2015 4:40 AM EDT

The remains of a U.S. soldier who went missing in the Korean War have been identified and returned to his California family almost 65 years after he died, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported.

Robert V. Witt was 20 years old in November 1950 when thousands of Chinese troops attacked his battalion in North Korea. Witt was taken prisoner and died of malnutrition in late January 1951, but it would be almost half a century until an excavation team organized by the U.S. and North Korea located his remains.

Last month, 15 years after the recovery, DNA tests confirmed that the bones had been Witt’s. They were then sent to his sister Laverne Minnick, his last surviving family member.

“I am so happy. He’s going to be home, where he belongs, with his family,” Minnick, who was 17 when her brother died and is now 82, told the Press-Telegram.

In 2008, army scientists contacted Minnick and her family to share the news that DNA analysis would determine whether or not the remains were those of her brother. Family members provided DNA samples to be used as a reference point, but were not optimistic about their prospects.

“I didn’t think I would hear anything,” Valerie Davis, Witt’s niece, said. “My mom didn’t think she would be alive to hear the news.”

Witt’s family plan to bury him with full military honors later this week.

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