DIXON, Calif. (KTXL) — An American war hero is finally back home after being in North Korea for almost seven decades.
There’s a vow America has made to those in military service — no man or woman left behind. Sometimes that promise just takes a little longer to keep, as it did for 27-year-old Army Sgt. 1st Class Phillip “Felipe” Mendoza.
Rachel Zaragoza, Mendoza’s grandniece, said out of his nine siblings, only two, Zaragoza’s grandmother and her granduncle, are still alive.
“She’s 92 and my uncle is 89,” Zaragoza told FOX40. “It’s just very heartwarming that the two siblings are able to witness him coming home at this age.”
Mendoza’s sister said she is glad to have her brother back home but sad their mother is no longer alive to see it.
But Zaragoza said her entire extended family has bonded, learning more about the uncle they never got to meet.
“I’m learning stories as family members come together. I understand he was a great cook,” she said.
She said Mendoza also served during World War II and had the opportunity to leave the Army afterward — but he opted to re-enlist.
“His dream was to continue to serve this country,” Zaragoza said.
Growing up in Texas, Mendoza was brought to the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon in order to be buried with two of his other brothers who also served.
During his burial on Friday, Sgt. Mendoza’s surviving brother and sister received an Ambassador for Peace Medal for his service from a South Korean consul general.
Mendoza’s return was made possible after the U.S. and North Korea made an agreement in July to allow 55 boxes containing the remains of American service members killed during the war to be returned to their families.
Later, DNA testing done in Hawaii confirmed Mendoza was among them.
Zaragoza said her granduncle’s story should give hope to other families whose loved ones are still missing in action.
“They’re not stopping to try and bring all of our Americans home,” she said. “And I just say, keep the faith and continue praying and wishing that your loved one is found and that they’ll be honored in a way that my uncle has been honored today.”