My earliest recollection as a child, three years old to be exact, was waking one night in the bed I shared with my brother Billy at 17 Fairmont Street in Cambridge. The street lights outside sometimes cast eerie shadows on the wall of our bedroom in the shapes of hideous beasts so that on this particularly dark and scary night, I jumped out of bed and ran to the living room and the safety of my mother and father. But where I expected to find them sitting listening to the radio, I found instead a tall, handsome man of 20 years old or so, dressed in a green military uniform.

It turned out to be my Uncle Ron whom I had never met, a corporal in Company D of the 38th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division of the United States Army, elements of which were gathering all over the country in preparation for deployment to Southeast Asia. President Truman, in a statement which has come to be known as the Truman Doctrine, had recently warned Soviet Russia against interfering in the internal affairs of other nations. When communist North Korea invaded democratic South Korea in June 1950, President Truman dispatched Gen. Douglas McArthur to the defense of South Korea. Uncle Ron and the 2nd Infantry division were a major part of that effort.

“Are you Billy,” Ron asked, tossing aside his newspaper and sweeping me up into his arms.

“No Bobby,” I stammered, pulling away to get a better look at him since there was something peculiar about him which I couldn’t identify, but at the same time something familiar which eased my initial alarm.

”I’m your Uncle Ron, your father’s little brother,” he said with a broad smile.

Of course, that’s it, I thought. He looked a lot like my father, although taller and slimmer, but the unmistakable blue eyes and prominent nose lent truth to his words and comforted me.

“Are you a soldier?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” he said, snapping his right hand to his forehead in a crisp military salute. “Corporal Ronald M. Sparks at your service.”

“Why you here?”

“I’m going away and I wanted to stop and say goodbye.”

“Where ya going?”

“To a place called Korea.”

“Why ya going?”

“I’m in the Army and there is a war on.”

In the morning when I awoke I rushed into my parents bedroom only to learn that my new friend had already left on a train for the West Coast. That was the only time I ever met my Uncle Ron. In November 1951 we received a telegram stating that his regiment had been overrun by a large Chinese Army which had intervened to support the North Koreans and he was listed as missing in action.

The following year, after a truce had been negotiated ending the war, evidence gathered from members of his platoon confirmed that he had been wounded and last seen being led away by Chinese troops. Soon after, another telegram arrived changing his status to Missing in Action, presumed dead. No additional information was forthcoming despite efforts by my grandparents to contact some of his Army buddies in hopes that their son might still be alive and being held as a prisoner of war.

It was almost 10 years later that Ron reentered my life when we heard our newly elected President, John F. Kennedy, pay tribute to those who had fallen in the service of their country.

“Since this nation was founded,” President Kennedy stated in his inaugural address, “each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call surround the globe.”

Sitting there in the den of our family home, now in suburban Hingham, I felt proud that Ron was my uncle and that I had spent those few precious moments with him.

“He’s talking about Uncle Ron isn’t he Dad,” I asked, turning to face my father.

Dad nodded and without saying a word left the room and sat alone in the back yard for almost an hour.

It was almost a half century later that Ron entered my life for a third time. My father was dying of cancer and asked to see each of his children privately in his bedroom.

“Your brother Billy is the oldest,” he announced when it was my turn, “so I am putting him in charge of taking care of your mother after I go.”

“Dad,” we are all going to take care of Mom,” I assured him.

“I know you will all help, but I have something special for you to do,” he informed me. “As you know your Uncle Ron was listed as missing in action in Korea and never came home. My mother and father never got over the fact that they couldn’t give him a proper burial. So, Robert, that’s what I’m asking you. No matter what you have to do or how long it takes, please bring my brother Ron home.”

I nodded, squeezed my father’s hand and he was gone. With his last breath he charged me with finding his little brother and returning him to the United States for burial.

So began my solemn mission, beginning the day my father died, Jan. 8, 2005. Over the past 11 years I have corresponded with the U.S. Army’s Past Conflicts Repatriation Branch, provided them with photographs, family biographies, dental records and most important DNA samples. I attended meetings when I could and the military was always generous in offering airfare and hotel accommodations to the next of kin if needed. In addition, and this proved immensely important in keeping me focused, I received a monthly briefing from Dawn Thorne, his case file officer who was located at Fort Knox, Ky. It is an irrefutable principle of military protocol, I learned, that no soldier is ever left behind either on the battlefield or as a missing combatant. I took great comfort in knowing that in the search for Uncle Ron, a 20-year-old boy from River Street in Cambridge, the United States military never gave up.

And then on June 28, 2016 good news arrived. I received a call from Dawn announcing that the remains of Cpl. Ronald M. Sparks, D Company, First Battalion, 38th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division had been found and positively identified.

And now, 65 years after falling in the service of his country on a battlefield 10,000 miles from home, Ron will be arriving in Boston sometime next month and placed in the grave reserved for him all these years beside his parents in Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett.

I wish it could have been sooner, but Dad, I’m happy to report that I found your little brother and he’ll be home soon.