“Bobby was a very fun-loving guy. He was like any other teenager,” said Byars’ nephew, Barry Byars. “I have a lot of vivid memories of (him).”
On Dec. 12, 1950, however, the Griffin native was reported Missing in Action by the U.S. Army while fighting the enemy in North Korea. About three years later, on Dec. 31, 1953, Byars was presumed dead.
“I remember an awful lot of crying,” said Barry Byars of the time his family was informed about the change in status. “You couldn’t console my grandmother (Bobby Byars’ mother). There was just no way.”
While he had always hoped for his uncle to return home somehow, the uncertainty of what had happened to Byars remained over all those years.
Then, between 1990 and 1994, the North Korean government released 208 boxes of remains from U.S. soldiers who were killed during battles of the war. Byars’ remains were found in six of those boxes.
Barry Byars said when he learned about a program initiated by former prisoner of war and current U.S. Senator John McCain that is dedicated to identifying the remains of missing soldiers, he wrote a letter to officials. Shortly thereafter, he received two DNA kits, which he and another uncle of his submitted.
This December, Byars was finally notified that the remains of his uncle were positively identified.
“At least we knew,” he said. “The feeling is undescribable to know for sure that they had identified him.”
Based on the analysis by the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, researchers were able to tell with certainty that Bobby Byars was never a prisoner of war, which was important detail to Barry Byars.
“That’s the part that made me feel at peace about it,” Byars said, adding that his experience might serve as encouragement to those who have not received word yet regarding relatives who have fought in wars and are missing in action or presumed dead. “Never give up hope. You could be next.”
On Feb. 14, the remains of Bobby Byars are scheduled to arrive in Atlanta from Honolulu. An honor guard from Fort Benning will be there, and the Griffin Police Department as well as the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office will escort Byars’ body to his hometown of Griffin, as an army blanket, a fresh uniform, an American flag and his many medals — a Purple Heart among them — will accompany his coffin.
The funeral service for Byars, who would be 80 years old today, is planned for Feb. 16.