The 35th Infantry Regiment Association salutes our fallen brother, CPL Clement Thibodeaux Jr, RA18349756, who died in the service of his country on November 28th, 1950 in North Korea. The cause of death was listed as Captured-Died POW. At the time of his death Clement was 19 years of age. He was from Louisiana. Clement's Military Occupation Specialty was 4745-Light Weapons Infantryman.
The decorations earned by CPL Clement Thibodeaux Jr include: the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Korea Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Sergeant Clement Thibodeaux Jr. died 60 years ago but his remains were never found, until now.
His relatives are preparing for a special homecoming to honor the hero.
Clement Thibodeaux Jr., known lovingly by his family as "Junior" left his roots in Baton Rouge back in February of 1950 to join the United States Army. Soon after, he was deployed to North Korea with the 25th Infantry Division to fight in the Korean War. His nephew, Wilson Thibodeaux, was only a year old at the time. He said he knew his uncle only through stories his relatives shared.
"He didn't have much going on. He was just out of school. He lived with my parents for a while looking for a place to stay. That's unfortunate for him that the Korean War started right after he joined," Thibodeaux said.
The former Private First Class quickly climbed the ranks to Corporal and later that same year became Sergeant Thibodeaux. But his unit suffered extensive casualties while withdrawing in late 1950 and several men including Thibodeaux were captured. They were taken to a POW camp known as "Death Valley". Wilson said he recently found a letter Junior wrote his father ten days before he went missing in action.
"I am writing to everyone I can right now because we may not have a chance later on. We are about 50 miles from the Manchurian border. It's very cold up here. It gets to zero and lower at night, and this is just supposed to be the beginning of winter. I was just thinking and wondering where I'll spend my birthday and Christmas this year. If you do send any packages for Christmas, how about sending some eats. A package is like a gift from heaven. So much for now, Love and regards, Junior," Wilson read.
Three years after Junior penned that letter, returning soldiers told army officials Sgt Thibodeaux had died of malnutrition and pneumonia in 1951. His body was never returned. Wilson said his dad was on a mission to have Junior's body found and returned to American soil.
This year, Wilson got news from the armed forces that Sgt Thibodeaux's bones were located in a ditch in North Korea. Experts were able to match them to a DNA sample Wilson said his dad gave before he died.
"We all wish he was here to see all this. At least we're finishing the story."
Sixty years later, Sgt. Thibodeaux will finally be laid to rest.
Sgt. Thibodeaux's remains will be flown into New Orleans on Friday morning.
It will be greeted by a full honor guard and escorted to Baton Rouge.
Relatives plan to have him buried in Church Point, La. next to his grandfather this fall
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CHURCH POINT They finally played taps for the sergeant.
A crowd of at least 200 gathered in Church Point at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Cemetery Saturday morning to watch as the remains of Sgt. Clement Thibodeaux Jr. were returned to his hometown.
Mayor Roger Boudreaux welcomed the procession that had traveled from Baton Rouge for the memorial. Thibodeaux's family, veterans groups, active-duty soldiers and members of the public all stood by,
An honor guard stood at attention by Thibodeaux's coffin, a rifle party fired three shots, taps rang out and Thibodeaux was entombed beside his great-grandfather, Civil War veteran Theodule Thibodeaux.
It all came 62 years -- almost 63 years -- after Clement Thibodeaux died in a prisoner of war camp in Korea, a camp so wretched that the soldiers imprisoned there called it "Death Valley."
The event marked the end of a journey that began in Baton Rouge in 1950, when Thibodeaux, then 17, enlisted in the Army to fight in Korea.
"As I understand it, he wasn't a bad kid," Thibodeaux's nephew, Gary Thribodeaux of Baton Rouge, told the Daily World prior to the ceremony.
"He just didn't like to go to school. His father was pretty strict. He didn't tolerate any disobedience, so he took Clement down and got him enlisted in the Army.
"My father (Wilson Thibodeaux Sr., Clement Thibodeaux's brother) was against it. He had served in North Africa and Europe under Gen. George Patton and he knew what war was like."
Clement Thibodeaux did well in the Army, rising quickly through the ranks until he was wounded by machine gun fire. He was hospitalized in Japan and, as he recovered there, he met a Japanese nurse.
"Keep this under your hat," Clement Thibodeaux wrote in a letter to his family. "If I stay in Japan long enough, I may get married." Clement Thibodeaux never got the chance to marry the nurse and, near the end of that letter, he foretold his own fate. "I've got a sneaky feeling that this time, if I go back, I won't be so lucky as the last."
He wasn't. According to U.S. Army records, in late Nov. 1950 Clement Thibodeaux's unit was fighting with units of the Chinese army north of the Chongchon River in North Korea when the Americans suffered extensive casualties and numerous soldiers, including Thibodeaux, were captured by the Chinese.
He and the other captives were taken to "Death Valley" and Thibodeaux was never heard from again.
In 1953, returning U.S. personnel told debriefers that Thibodeaux had died from malnutrition and pneumonia in the camp in January 1951.
Gary Thibodeaux said his father, Wilson Thibodeaux Sr., spent years attempting to locate his brother's remains. He eventually gave a DNA sample. That sample was used to identify Clement Thibodeaux's remains, which had been found in a ditch, along with others, near the POW camp.
Wilson Thibodeaux died in 2008, before his brother was identified.
"I only wish my father could have known," said Gary Thibodeaux.
Nonetheless, numerous members of the Thibodeaux family were on hand to watch Clement Thibodeaux entombed beside his great grandfather, a wish he had expressed while serving in Korea.
During Saturday's ceremony, he was awarded the Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster because of his wounds, a Good Conduct Medal, a Prisoner of War Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge.
His invocation was read by Chaplain Lucas V. Rees of Fort Hood, who praised Thibodeaux and others who have died in battle and quoted Austrian Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, who wrote:
"In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice."
Sergeant Thibodeaux was a member of Company L, 3rd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. He was seriously wounded by the enemy in South Korea on August 2, 1950 and returned to duty on September 11, 1950. He was taken Prisoner of War while fighting the enemy in North Korea on November 28, 1950 and died while a prisoner on January 28, 1951. Sergeant Thibodeaux was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.