INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A somber homecoming Saturday for a Hoosier soldier who was missing in action since the Korean War.
It’s been 64 years since Leland Ford Smith has been in Indiana. On Saturday, his body was flown home with full military honors.
“Its a big relief,” said Carl Short, Smith’s nephew. “My mothers very, very happy. In fact, the whole family is happy.”
“He’s finally, he’s finally home,” said Mike Clark, the President of the group Rolling Thunder, Indiana Chapter 1, which escorted Smith’s body.
“Honor them, show our support and pay our respect to what it’s about,” said Jennifer Morrison, also of Rolling Thunder.
Smith grew up in Steuben County in the northeast corner of the state. He enlisted in the Army in 1950. Military documents show he was lost just months into his deployment in the Korean War.
He was later taken hostage and died at just 18 years old of malnutrition.
“The mission continues to bring their loved one home,” said Morrison.
Before Saturday, Smith was one of the 1,700 Hoosiers who are Missing in Action (MIA) or being held as Prisoners of War (POW).
The group Rolling Thunder is the same group that is behind the Chair of Honor that was unveiled last month at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“That’s one reason why we do what we do to make sure they don’t forget them,” said Clark. “When people go see that chair, remember the service members that have died for our freedom.”
Throughout the US, 82,000 military service members are still unaccounted for. Unlike current wars, in past wars, DNA wasn’t collected, making the jobs of POW/MIA organizations that much harder.
“With Vietnam, Korea and WWII, there was no DNA on file before the boys went out in the field,” said Morrison.
Smith is survived by three sisters.
A funeral and burial will be held for him in Steuben County on Monday.