“It is sadly not unusual for young children to lose a parent,” Lois Justus-Hyman said. “But it is certainly astronomically unusual for 68-and-a-half years to pass between the loss and the last rites.”
Justus-Hyman, 70, and her brother Jack Justus, 72, got the opportunity to give their father, Elden Justus, his last rites after losing him almost seven decades ago in the Korean War when he was just 23 years old. Before burying his remains in the Greenwood Cemetery in Arcata, the family held a memorial service attended by hundreds, from family and friends to service members and representatives of the South Korean government, to remember his life and his sacrifice at the Elks Lodge in Eureka on Thursday.
“Welcome home, Elden,” Paul Hyman, Justus-Hyman’s husband, said at the memorial service. “For 52 years, you lay in a communal grave in North Korea. And for 15 years in a laboratory in Honolulu awaiting identification. But today, July 11, 2019, you will lie in peace forever in a grave of your own in Greenwood Cemetery in Arcata in the redwoods.”
Because she was so young when she lost him, Justus-Hyman said, “Memories of him are snapshots viewed from decades of distance and through the prism of the memories of others.”
Some of those memories included those of Justus’ older sister Edna, who Justus-Hyman said remembered him as the “annoying younger brother who mocked her as she practiced her violin and almost always ate all the after-school snacks their mother laid out on the counter for them.”
Justus-Hyman also read a letter her father had written to his mother while he was enlisted signed, “Love as always, 19213010 otherwise known as Elden.”
“Apparently he was an all-American wise guy, too,” Justus-Hyman said.
Justus enlisted in the Army in 1945 after graduating from Arcata High School and married Ruth Boensel while in Germany. The pair had two children before Justus re-enlisted in the Army and returned to the U.S. Shortly after, he was back on a plane and on his way to fight in Korea. Justus was killed at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in 1950, but was listed as missing in action until 1953. His body was recovered in 2004 and positively identified earlier this year.
His body was escorted from Sacramento to Arcata earlier this week and joined by veterans along the way.
Justus-Hyman shared the last letter her father had written to her and her brother, which included a dollar each for them to “buy all the candy and ice cream (their) little tummies can hold.”
Justus was honored by both the U.S. and Korean governments for his service during the war at the memorial.
A spokesman for Congressman Jared Huffman said a congressional statement was read into the record by Huffman recognizing Justus’ service.
Also Thursday, Justus was awarded with a Purple Heart Medal from the U.S. Army by Sergeant First Class Barry Prescott and was awarded an Ambassador for Peace Medal by the Consul General of the Republic of Korea in San Francisco Joon-Yong Park.
“It is a great honor and pleasure to express the everlasting gratitude of the Republic of Korea and our people for the service you and your countrymen have performed in restoring and preserving our freedom and democracy,” Park said. “We cherish in our hearts the memory of your honor and sacrifice.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.