VIDALIA, Ga. (WSAV) – It’s a moment one Vidalia family has been waiting for for more than 65 years.
In a few weeks, military officials will bring home the remains of Army Corporal Willam Smith, who died in the Korean War. Officials say he died during an enemy attack by the Korean People’s Army.
Cpl. Smith’s nephew, Robert Manders, says the corporal enlisted himself in the war when he was 19-years-old. The Defense POW Accounting Agency (DPAA) says the corporal was a member of Company E, 2nd Batallion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.
During the attack, the corporal’s unit was fighting along the Naktong River in South Korea. Cpl. Smith was reported missing in 1950. He was declared deceased in 1953.
Despite their best efforts, military officials could not identify his remains.
Until now, Cpl. Smith’s family had only medals and stories to remember him.
“I remember hearing all those stories,” said Manders. “And hearing my grandmother and mother asking questions: where is he?”
Manders says that’s when the family went to a nearby cemetery and put a marker for Cpl. Smith on the ground. The grave underneath has been empty since 1953.
“They placed that there so other people in the family and other generations later — if he never were found — would know that there was actually somebody that was supposed to be in that spot,” said Manders.
When they failed to identify the corporal’s remains, personnel from the United Nations Military Cemetary in Korea sent the corporal’s remains to the National Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific (NMCP) in Honolulu, according to the DPAA.
The remains were labeled as ‘unknown’ until 2017 when they were transferred again to a laboratory for further analysis. In June of this year, DPAA scientists used DNA, dental and anthropological analyses to determine that the remains were, in fact, Cpl. William Smith.
“When I first found out, I was speechless, surprised and relieved,” said Manders. “Our family could finally receive that closure.”
Manders says the moment is bittersweet because his mother — the corporal’s sister — died before she could hear the news.
“She’d probably be inconsolable right now,” said Manders. “She’d feel a sense of relief. And a sense of closure like I do.”
In August, the family will have a service for Cpl. Smith. Manders says anyone is welcome to come if they want to pay their respects.
After the service, Manders and his family will lay Cpl. Smith in his final resting place: the same one his family created in 1953.
According to DPAA, more than 7,600 soldiers are still unaccounted for from the Korean War. Manders says to stay positive, despite the odds.
“It’s possible. If it can happen to a small-town Vidalia boy like myself, it can happen to anyone abroad,” said Manders. “Keep your chin up. Keep your faith in God. And it will come true.”