Robert Van Layton – Master Sergeant, United States Army


Robert Van Layton

Hamilton, Ohio
Born 1924
Master Sergeant, U.S. Army
Service Number 35792464
Missing in Action – Presumed Dead
Died December 2, 1950 in Korea

Master Sergeant Layton was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

He was listed as Missing in Action while fighting the enemy in North Korea on December 2, 1950. He was presumed dead on December 31, 1953.

For his leadership and valor, Master Sergeant Layton was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Korean War Service Medal.

NEWS RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
November 28, 2006
Media Contact: (703) 697-5131/697-5132
Public/Industry(703) 428-0711

Soldier Missing in Action from the Korean War is Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from the Korean War, have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

He is Master Sergeant Robert V. Layton, U.S. Army, of Cincinnati, Ohio. He is to be buried today at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C.

Layton was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division (making up the 31st Regimental Combat Team). The RCT was engaged against the Chinese People's Volunteer Forces along the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea. After intense fighting from November 27-December 1, 1950, the battalion was forced to abandon its osition, leaving its dead behind. Layton was listed as missing in action on December 2, 1950, and was later presumed killed in action.

Between 2002 and 2004, joint U.S. and Democratic People's Republic of North Korea teams, led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, seven times excavated a mass burial site associated with the 31st RCT along the eastern shore of the Chosin Reservoir. The team found human remains and other material evidence, including Layton's identification tag and part of his billfold containing a newspaper clipping reporting on a Bronze Star being awarded to “Sgt. Robert Layton” circa 1944.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA and dental comparisons in the identification of the remains.

For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO Web site at or call (703) 699-1169.

A Cincinnati man lost during the Korean War was laid to rest Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Master Sergeant Robert V. Layton was lost and presumed killed during the December 1950 battle for the Chosin Reservoir.

A joint military search team found human remains and other material evidence, including Layton's identification tag and part of his billfold containing a newspaper clipping reporting on a Bronze Star being awarded to “Sgt. Robert Layton” in 1944.

The grave was first discovered in 1998 and excavated between 2002 and 2004.

Layton left behind a wife and two daughters.

28 November 2006:

A soldier identified partly through dental records and a 1944 newspaper clipping found in his billfold was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday, more than a half-century after he was killed in action in North Korea.

Master Sergeant Robert V. Layton was among 225 members of an Army battalion killed by Chinese forces at Chosin Reservoir and buried in a mass grave some time between November 27 and December 1, 1950. The battalion had to retreat and listed Layton, 26, of Cincinnati, as missing in action on December 2, 1950.

Layton was buried in a ceremony attended by his daughter, Judith Saylor of Millersville, Pa., and other family members, said Larry Greer, spokesman for Pentagon's POW-MIA office.

A few blocks away from Layton's grave, the Pentagon keeps working to identify the remains of soldiers and Marines whose remains have been recovered from the Chosin Reservoir site. Greer said bone fragments gathered between 2002 and 2004 can be hard to identify, but 15 fillings and well-maintained dental records helped forensic scientists in Hawaii positively identify Layton.

“The fillings made them almost as unique as a fingerprint,” Greer said.

Layton's remains were recovered by joint U.S.-North Korean recovery teams. Searchers also found Layton's dog tags and a billfold containing a 1944 Cincinnati Enquirer clipping about the Bronze Star awarded to Layton in World War II.

They further established Layton's identity when DNA from bone fragments matched a sample provided by his sister, Greer said.

More than 33,000 U.S. troops were killed in the Korean War, which began in June 1950 and ended with the signing of an armistice in 1953.

Layton's family could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Greer said the Pentagon's recovery and identification work helps heal old wounds.

“We meet with family members every month, three-quarters of them are from the Korean War, and most of those had no idea we continue to pursue their fathers and grandfathers from the war,” he said. “And many of them say it brings closure to a sad chapter of that family's life.”

14 December 2006:

The rotted remains of a left boot. A beaded chain. Some buttons. Crumpled foil from a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. A key manufactured in Lancaster by Slaymaker Lock Co. A moldy canvas-and-leather wallet holding a faded photograph. A single military dog tag.

These items, once carried by U.S. Army Master Sergeant Robert V. Layton, are all his daughter, Judith Saylor of Millersville, has to remember her father, personal belongings straight to her from a grave half a world away.

Missing in action in Korea since December 1950, Layton’s skeletal remains, and the items buried with him, were returned to his family last month.

“It’s closure for us at last,” Saylor said Wednesday.

Living in Cincinnati at the time, Saylor was just 5 years old when her father left his wife, Helen, and two young daughters, Geraldine and herself, to fight in Korea. It would be Layton’s second war.

Layton won a Bronze Star for valor in World War II and was wounded twice. His European campaign ribbon bears four battle stars. When North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, Layton, either on his own or through a callback issued by the government, found himself back in uniform.

Assigned to the 37th Regimental Combat Team of the Army’s 7th Division, Layton was among the United Nations forces that pushed the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel and kept pushing them north toward the Chinese border.

By November 1950, Layton and his comrades had reached the shores of the Chosin Reservoir. There, they fell victim to a surprise assault by Chinese troops, sent to bolster North Korean forces.

Fierce fighting and subzero temperatures took a severe toll. The 7th Division was surrounded but fought its way out, suffering 15,000 casualties.

One of these was Layton, who fell sometime between November 27 and November 29 in fighting on the reservoir’s east side, between Pungnyuri Inlet and Hagaru-ri to the south.

Layton was declared missing in action December 2, 1950 — and legally dead December 31, 1953.

“Mother always felt like he was going to come home, but I think that’s just a way of dealing with it,” Saylor said.

For the next 50 years, there was no news of the husband and father, although there were some false alarms. Decades ago, the family saw a photograph of an American GI imprisoned in North Korea. The man closely resembled Layton, but it wasn’t him.

Then, in the 1990s, a library in Cincinnati displayed a photograph of a prisoner named Robert Layton. However, it was soon discovered the man’s middle name was different.

“They were about the same age,” Saylor said. “They actually enlisted in the Army about the same time, so those kinds of things fed our questions.”

It was Saylor’s sister Geraldine’s persistent inquiries to the Pentagon’s POW/MIA Office that finally paid off for the family.

In 2001, U.S. investigators began a careful excavation of a mass grave of American soldiers at Chosin Reservoir. The men buried there, at least 225 of them, had been interred by their comrades before the American withdrawal from the reservoir.

Layton’s remains — along with those of three other men — were found in 2004 in a small grave near the mass grave. After being returned to Washington, Layton’s remains were identified earlier this year through DNA analysis and dental records, and a letter was sent to Geraldine.

Unfortunately, Geraldine died in June, so her mother — Layton’s 84-year-old widow — got the letter. She phoned Saylor.

At first it didn’t seem real, Saylor said. But reality sank in last month when she, her husband, Bill, their two sons and her mother visited Arlington, Va.

There, they were presented with Layton’s personal effects, including his wallet, which still contained a faded photo of his young wife and his mother. They also were allowed to view the remains in the casket and place letters, photos and other memorabilia inside.

“That’s when I started getting choked up, because all of a sudden, it’s real, and it made him more human,” said Saylor, whose last memory of her father was a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo just before he left for overseas.

Saylor said her mother was more shaken by the news than Saylor had anticipated.

“It stirred up a lot more than she thought it was going to,” Saylor said. “She got real shaky.”

She said her mother was wracked with self-recrimination, wondering if she could have been a better wife or if she should have written him more often.

“We told her that’s not why he’s dead,” Saylor said. “It was war, and a lot of men died.”

Layton was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on November 28, 2006,  — 56 years, possibly to the day, that he died.

Finally knowing her father’s fate has eased a burden for Saylor.

“To know that he died in combat, that it was quick, that he was buried with some respect, that he was not tortured, and to have him buried at Arlington with respect,” she said, “that means a lot.”

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