SEMINOLE — Though siblings Candy Mancuso and William “Gidge” Briggs never met their uncle, U.S. Army Sgt. Gerald B. Raeymacker, he’s always had a presence in their lives.
Growing up in Dunkirk, New York, just 40 miles outside Buffalo, their older family members — their grandmother, aunts and uncles— talked openly about Raeymacker, who served during the Korean War and went missing on Dec. 6, 1950, his 21st birthday, while fighting in North Korea. Three years later, he was declared killed in action, even though his remains hadn’t been found at that point.
“Gerald has always been a conversation of our family for our entire life,” said Mancuso, who today lives in unincorporated Seminole down the block from her brother.
Briggs added, “My dad seldom talked about him. It was hard for him. But my grandmother talked about him all the time. She always talked about him coming home.”
Nearly 70 years later, that finally happened. The U.S. military discovered his remains among those turned over by North Korea in June 2018. With DNA submitted by Briggs, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was able to identify Raeymacker’s remains, a left femur found in the 55 boxes that came from North Korea, on Aug. 9. This date had additional significance for the family, as it is also the shared birthday of Briggs and his aunt, Martha.
Finding Raeymacker’s remains has been a lengthy process, Briggs said. For decades, the family kept in contact with the military, submitting DNA to test against various remains found.
“I’d hoped they’d find him, but I never thought in my lifetime we would see him coming home,” he said. “It was really something when we got the news.”
The U.S. military transported Raeymacker’s remains to his hometown of Dunkirk for an Oct. 19 burial. Throughout the trip, he was escorted by soldiers who stood guard over his remains. After the plane carrying him landed in Buffalo, the local fire department gave a water cannon salute as the plane taxied the runway.
They were also met by a veterans’ motorcycle club that led the funeral procession from Buffalo to Dunkirk, and many who didn’t know Raeymacker — active-duty soldiers, veterans’ organizations, members of the community — came out to pay their last respects to him, said Kathy Briggs, William’s wife.
“It was so beautiful,” she said. “The respect and honor they showed someone they never even knew was amazing.”
Family members came from all over the country for the funeral. Raeymacker was one of 10 siblings. Many of them have since passed away, including, Briggs’ and Mancuso’s father.
“So, we were a large family, but we were always tight knit,” William said. “A lot of us have moved away, though, and I hadn’t seen some of my family in 30 years. It was like a family reunion. It was a celebration for us.”
Though Mancuso couldn’t take time off from work for the funeral, her husband attended the event, sending her pictures and videos throughout his trip.
“It was almost like I was there,” she said. “I was overcome with emotion just looking at the pictures.”
Following their grandmother’s wishes, her long-lost son was buried beside her.
“That was her wish. If he was ever brought home, she wanted him buried beside her, and it’s finally happened,” Mancuso said. “This was such a big moment for our family.”