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Arizona Homecoming For Gila River Indian Community Marine Killed In Action 68 Years Ago
A lifetime of mourning for a 74-year-old member of the Gila River Indian Community has come to an end. Laverne McAfee was finally able to welcome her father home.
It was a day Laverne McAfee never expected. Her father, Sgt. Johnson McAfee Jr., received full military honors at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona last Friday.
“We celebrate you today, sir,” said Bishop Rick Garrett, Sr. “We celebrate your life and we celebrate your accomplishments.”
As six Marines carried a flag-draped coffin holding Sgt. McAfee’s remains, his daughter’s eyes filled with tears. Still, she said this is a time to celebrate because she’s spent 68 years mourning.
McAfee’s family was comforted by current and former military members, including Frank Martinez, a Vietnam War veteran from the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.
He didn’t know the man who graduated from the Tucson Indian Training School before joining the Marines, but felt compelled to attend the ceremony.
“He’s been missing for 68 years and I was born that year he went missing,” Martinez said. “It’s part of history and we need to not forget it.”
The Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) reports Sgt. McAfee was killed during combat in North Korea in late November 1950. He was a member of Company F, 2nd Battallion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force fighting against units of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces. McAfee was killed near the Chosin Reservoir at a Marine outpost known as Fox Hill.
The DPAA said McAfee was buried alongside others at the base of a Marine outpost prior to the post’s evacuation, but it was only late last year the agency was able to identify his remains and notify Sgt. McAfee’s 74-year-old daughter.
“His country gave him a Purple Heart medal and his Lord gave him everlasting life,” said Yasmine Dorsey, the great-granddaughter Sgt. McAfee never met.
She shared his life story with a group gathered at the main stage. “He decided to enter the Marine Corps instead of entering the University of Arizona, putting his desire to become a teacher on hold.”
When a local newspaper reported Sgt. McAfee’s death it included a quote from his enlistment application. McAfee said he wanted to join the Marines because they’re tough. He wrote, “A Pima boy was killed recently in the South Pacific and I want to take his place.” Sgt.McAfee fought in World War II before deploying more than 6,000 miles away to Korea.
Carletta McDaniel made the 55-mile journey from the Gila River Indian Reservation to north Phoenix. She joined members of the Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post 84 to pay their respects.
“We’re glad that he’s here and he made it home,” she said.
The tribe’s Lt. Governor, Robert Stone, expressed gratitude to the family in the O’otham language and Governor Stephen Roe Lewis presented McAfee’s daughter with a special blanket.
“It has three eagle feathers on there,” he said. “And, as you know, eagle feathers are earned. And, he, Sgt. Johnson McAfee, definitely earned his eagle feathers.”
Laverne McAfee told the Gila River Indian News she never thought she would bring her father home. She thought he was lost forever.
“No man left behind” is a time-honored military creed. And a promise kept to the McAfee family.