The Dunkirk High School Class of 1948 came together Tuesday morning at Willowbrook Cemetery to remember their classmate and friend, Pfc. John Naetzker, who lost his life during the Korean War.
Naetzker was born in Dunkirk on Dec. 13, 1930. A member of the 5th Calvary regiment's 1st Division, he was killed in action on Oct. 11, 1951 at the age of 20.
It was a time for class members to gather around Naetzker's gravesite and salute him for his service. It was also a day to reminisce about the times they had with their classmate and companion. Jack Benson was a close friend of Naetzker and talked about some of the activities they did together, which included going to see a Buffalo Bills game when they were members of the AFL, meeting his uncles who were wealthy bankers, and going to his cottage in Van Buren.
OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy
The Dunkirk High School Class of 1948 came to remember Pfc. John Naetzker Tuesday at the gravesite at Willowbrook Park Cemetery. Naetzker went missing in action and died in the Chorwon area of North Korea.
OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy
Class members of Pfc. John Naetzker reunite to remember their friend.
Benson explained that since John was an only child, the family would include him when they had family outings.
"John and I were the best of friends, and we had a fraternity way back then," Benson said. "John and I graduated together and we had a great time."
Benson went on to talk about their separation as he got drafted and Naetzker quit college. After leaving college, Naetzker ended up enlisting in the Army. Benson last saw him when they met with each other in New York the weekend before he was heading out.
Benson's wife notified him at the time he went missing in action and later died in action. He grieved for the mother, and said she really never got over it.
"The Naetzkers invited my wife and I and our children over to their home for dinner and other occasions. The conversation would turn to John. When I think of John, I can't help but think of his loving parents."
Dec. 3, 1950 was the day in which Don Briggs heard the news about Naetzker's disappearance in action. Briggs explained that they never were able to find him because when the Chinese pushed across the border, and they weren't supposed to, he got caught up in it. When they went forward into North Korea, the Americans couldn't go in there. Briggs remembered growing up in the same area as Naetzker, playing football and swimming together.
Madylon Kubera, who is a cousin of Naetzker, is still hoping the remains of her family member returns home. She said that they're still looking to bring him back to the site where her two brothers, who served in the Korean War, are buried.
"I had to send my DNA, and my sister did too, long ago, because if they get the remains, they will identify them," Kubera said. "They know within 25 minutes, the area where the Chinese came across the border in hordes. The remains of some of them gradually come back since the North Koreans are willing to trade."
Kubera said that John was a "priestly person," and if he did get away and was saved, he would have treated the people who came to his assistance very well.
"I lived in my house that I grew up in for 60 years, hoping I'd see him come up the driveway," Kubera said. "It's still something that bothers you after a lot of years."
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