Korean vet to finally receive proper burialPublished 8:40am Thursday, June 6, 2013
For decades there wasn’t much left but a few memories and a slight glimmer of hope.
The family of U.S. Army Master Sgt. Olen Berry Williams received a letter from the Army on Dec. 12, 1950 that he was missing in action and, on Dec. 31, 1953, he was declared killed in action.
There was no funeral. There wasn’t even a grave marker erected in his family’s cemetery in Verbena until recently. Even the marker was flawed, according to his great niece Tammy Richardson of Wetumpka.
While much of his family had accepted that his body would never rest in his family’s cemetery, Richardson and her mother Dorothy Justiss would not stop the search.
Their efforts paid off in April when skeletal remains were identified as those matching Williams.
“This is closure of a bad nightmare,” his niece said. “I’m just glad to finally have that final piece to complete a lengthy puzzle.”
After 63 years, Williams is coming home to rest.
A funeral with full military honors will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Martin Funeral Home in Clanton, followed by his burial in the family cemetery.
“And this time I hope they get his marker right,” Richardson said.
According to U.S. Army documents supplied to the family, 95 percent of Williams’ skeleton was recovered.
Williams died during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.
His body was later discovered on the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir and later preserved by the Chinese government. His remains were moved to Hawaii to be buried with other unidentified servicemen in the National Military Cemetery.
Through advances in technology, most bodies have been able to be identified through DNA testing. Oddly enough, it was DNA testing that eliminated hundreds of unidentified soldiers before Williams’ body was discovered.
The Chinese government had used formaldehyde to try to preserve Williams’ body. In doing so, it wiped all of his DNA from his remains.
“Mom and I submitted DNA samples to the Army so that way they could eliminate those who did have DNA and after a few questions and some photos we had of him, they were able to positively identify him,” Richardson said.
While Williams had the equivalent of a sixth-grade education, according to Richardson, he was a highly decorated soldier.
He not only served in the Korean War but was a member of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division that went ashore at Utah Beach in Normandy during D-Day on June 6, 1944.
Among the numerous medals Williams received were two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.
And on Sunday Williams will get the proper full military burial he deserves.
“We’re all excited to get that missing piece to the family puzzle and have him brought back to Verbena, buried with his mom and dad,” Richardson added.