The remains of Army 1st Lieutenant Thomas Redgate, who was reported missing 70 years ago in the midst of the Korean War, will finally be laid to rest Friday, September 17, at Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.
A member of Battery A of the 48th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, Lt. Redgate was reported missing on December 11, 1950, after his unit was attacked during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Three years later, with no remains being recovered, he was presumed dead. But even as the years turned to decades, the Redgate family held steadfast in their hope that someday, somehow their youngest boy would return home.
“I think [my grandmother] always thought Tommy was just going to walk through the door,” said Kathleen T. Redgate, Lt. Redgate's niece. “They’re just this tight-knit Irish family, they’re very private. They carried on with life, but they knew he was a hero. My father would talk about it once and if you didn’t pay attention, you missed out.”
Ms. Redgate’s father, Howard D. Redgate, was one of Lt. Redgate’s three siblings, along with Laurence Redgate and Irene Bloniarz. According to both Ms. Redgate and Peter Bloniarz, Ms. Bloniarz’s eldest son, the family did not talk much about the loss they suffered after Thomas didn’t come home.
“It was a real loss for them, a real tragedy,” Mr. Bloniarz said. “Toward the end of her life, my grandmother lived with us in our house, and [she and my mother] would speak of the year when Tommy disappeared, but they didn’t talk about him personally, in terms of what he was like as a person. It was much more about their sadness about [his disappearance], and I think talking about him would bring up sadness for him. The only real memory that I have of him is my mother used to have his picture on her bureau. It was the only picture she had on her bureau and it was there for the rest of her life, or at least until I left. He was just kind of this empty hole in the family, not a real person that I had any sort of understanding of or connection to.”
When Lt. Redgate’s remains were identified in April 2020—almost two years after North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un gave 55 boxes of remains to President Donald Trump—it was Mr. Bloniarz who got the call. Being the oldest son of the deceased’s oldest sibling, he was identified as Lt. Redgate’s next of kin.
“When I personally got the news, I was in disbelief,” he said. “I was thinking what a remarkable gift that the United States government has done by continuing to look for him. One of his brothers and one of his nieces—my sister—had given DNA to [be used to] match. I just couldn’t believe that this finally happened.”
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA, said in a press release that Lt. Redgate’s remains were examined at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and identified using anthropological analysis, circumstantial evidence, and various types of DNA analysis, including mitochondrial and Y chromosome analysis.
“It’s like a miracle, like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Ms. Redgate, who lives in Falmouth. “My father gave a sample of his DNA in 1990 and when we had the presentation [on identification], the DNA chromosomes were like an exact match. I just never thought that my uncle would be in one of those [boxes]. It just never crossed my mind because it was so far-fetched and we’ve waited so long but sure enough, he was.”
Lt. Redgate’s remains are scheduled to land at Logan Airport on Tuesday evening, and Ms. Redgate, Mr. Bloniarz, and other family members — including Ms. Redgate’s 97-year-old mother Ellen Redgate — will be waiting to welcome him home.
“I think all of us think we’re really privileged to be able to close a sad chapter in the Redgate family history,” Mr. Bloniarz said. “It’s also a sense of regret that it’s us doing this and not our parents, who knew him and felt his loss so much more personally and directly. We think of ourselves as proxies for our parents.”
After seven long decades of not knowing, the Redgate family is grateful to finally be able to lay their long-lost family member to rest and give him the recognition he deserves. And for Ms. Redgate, something else was finally laid to rest as well — the sense of longing to understand who her uncle really was.
“It piqued my attention, of course, when I found out that they identified him,” she said. “Just since this has happened, I’m learning more about him. There’s this [familial] thread, you know, we enjoy life, we’re a little fun-loving, [we] just have fun in life. And I know Thomas was voted most popular at Brighton High School, my father said he would drive his car like a bat out of hell down Chestnut Hill Avenue to get to class, and he was fun-loving. I feel like I can say that about him. I look at his pictures, he has a great smile, he was engaged to the girl next door. He took classes at Boston College, I think in business. He was a very religious guy, I think he was an altar boy at Saint Ignacious. I’m learning about him.”
In a scrapbook dedicated to the uncle she never got to know, Ms. Redgate has a letter he sent to her parents from Korea. It’s dated November 17, 1950, just three weeks before he went missing.
“My father had never really given up hope,” she said. “But he would have been overjoyed, and I’m trying to represent him… And now that my oldest, David, will be there, he’ll hear the story. And my nieces and nephews will hear the story, so when they have their children, they can pass down this knowledge and memory of their great-uncle.”
Lt. Redgate’s family will commemorate his life and service during a funeral Mass scheduled for 10 AM in Brighton at Saint Ignatius of Loyola Church, followed by a motorcade to the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne where Lt. Redgate will be laid to rest with military honors from his former unit. Mr. Bloniarz said that the family has been working with various veteran’s organizations, including the Army Casualty office, in planning the ceremony.