PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — It was a bittersweet moment for family members of First Class Private Ithiel Whatley Friday. After 73 years, the Korean War soldiers remains’ were returned to Pensacola. 

“We are very grateful to have him home, and very grateful that our government is still looking for our soldiers are bringing them home,” said Whatley’s great niece Jennifer Dukes. “It’s an amazing process that after 73 years he’s back where he belongs.”

Whatley was reported missing in action on July 12, 1950 after his unit was engaged in a fighting withdrawal south of Chochi’won, South Korea.

After dental, anthropological and DNA analysis, Whatley was accounted for on September 7, 2022.

According to the U.S. Army, there are still more than 7,500 Americans that remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. 

Now that her family is getting closure, Jennifer Dukes encourages other families not to give up.

“They are still looking for them and there is still hope,” said Dukes. “Hang in there because your loved one might be the next one to come home.”

Whatley was 19-years-old when he was reported missing, but his legacy will always be remembered.  

“He gave his life at a very young age,” said Dukes. “We’re very thankful to all of the men and women in the military who serve and help us. He was so young, 19, but I feel like this is probably what his life was meant to be. That was his call and his purpose to fight for his country.”

Whatley will be laid to rest at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola.