LOS ANGELES — Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Gantt told his wife to remarry if he didn’t come back from the war. She told him no. He had a hard enough time getting her to say yes. He was it.
For 63 years, the World War II and Korean War veteran was missing in action and presumed dead, but Clara Gantt, 94, held out hope and never remarried.
On a cold, dark Friday morning on the Los Angeles International Airport tarmac, the widow stood from her wheelchair and cried as her husband’s flag-draped casket arrived home.
“I am very, very proud of him. He was a wonderful husband, an understanding man,” she told TV reporters at the airport. “I always did love my husband, we was two of one kind, we loved each other. And that made our marriage complete.”
Joseph Gantt joined the Army in 1942 and served in the South Pacific during WWII. He met his wife on a train from Texas to Los Angeles in 1946 and they married two years later. They had no children.
In the Korean War, he was assigned as a field medic, Battery C, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, when he was taken prisoner by North Korean forces in December 1950. He died in March 1951, it was learned later, but his remains were only recently returned to the U.S. and identified, said Bob Kurkjian, executive director of USO Greater Los Angeles Area.
Clara Gantt, of Inglewood, bought a home and got a gardener so that when her husband returned, he wouldn’t have to work in the yard — he could just go fishing and do whatever he wanted, she said.
“I bought a home for him. And I am in that home now,” she said.
In her bedroom, the widow keeps a shrine with her husband’s awards, including the Bronze Star with Valor, awarded posthumously for his combat leadership actions while defending his unit’s position, and a Purple Heart,Kurkjian said.
Joseph Gantt will be buried later this month.
The pylons at LAX glowed red, white and blue in honor of the veteran’s return, and an Airport Police and Army honor guard met the plane as it touched down from Honolulu, where the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and forensics labs are located.
“It’s a holiday homecoming for the Gantt family to finally be able to close that chapter and move forward knowing with certainty that their husband, uncle, great-uncle is finally home,” Kurkjian said.
This is third Korean War veteran whose remains have been brought home in the last 18 months, he said.