Remains of Miss. soldier returning 60 years later

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, April 30, 2013

After the disappearance of Sgt. Willard Williams in Korea in 1950, his family created a comforting myth.

They imagined that Williams had amnesia and returned from the war with no memory of his Mississippi childhood. Maybe he’d healed and made a new life somewhere, disappearing from the Army’s radar. Maybe he’d find his way back to them one day.

“It was a fantasy-hope,” said his niece, Ann Schuck of Ocean Springs, Miss., who was 8 years old when he disappeared.

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That dream helped get the family through the years, but on Wednesday they will finally be able to give Williams a proper funeral.

Williams’ remains have been identified by the Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii after being recovered from Korea and returned to the United States. He is one of more than 200 soldiers missing in Korea whose remains have been identified as part of the Army’s effort to bring back and honorably bury troops from conflicts around the world.

Williams will be buried Wednesday at a family plot in Lexington, Miss., with full military honors.

The return of Williams’ remains has brought closure to a tragic period of Schuck’s childhood. When she was about 5 years old, Schuck was in the car with Williams, her mother and grandmother, when they were blindsided by another vehicle trying to beat them across an intersection near Meridian, Miss. Her mother and grandmother later died of injuries they sustained in the accident.

In 1949, Williams enlisted and left for Korea, where he served for a year and a half. According to Army records, the family was notified on the day after Christmas that Williams may have been captured. For Schuck, Wednesday’s funeral will finally close a harrowing chapter in her life, one that’s haunted her since she was a young girl.

“You knew the hope could well be, and probably was, just a fantasy, a dream,” Shuck said. “To finally get confirmation was more closure.”

For Williams’ daughter, Evye Beyer of Ozark, Mo., the experience has been somewhat different. She was too young to remember much about her father when he left for Korea.

“You’ve had a loss, but you’ve had all these years in between,” Beyer explained. “It’s like a closure, but it’s not the same as someone you’ve spent the last 20 years with. It’s not the same. It’s awkward.”

Beyer, 64, said it bothers her to not be able to remember that time.

“It’s really hard. You feel like it’s two different people — you were that little girl, now you’re this person.”

Josephine Beard, Williams’ sister, remembers Williams as a sweet young man who was spoiled by his sisters. Beard said her father, who died in 1994, never gave up hope that the story of Williams’ disappearance would be solved.

His burial will be Wednesday at Liberty Chapel Cemetery in Lexington, about 60 miles north of Jackson.

The story of what happened to Williams between the November day in 1950 when he went missing and the recovery of his remains is still unknown.

“It really makes me feel good about our government to know they have not been forgotten,” Schuck said.