BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A Korean War veteran missing for more than half a century has finally been laid to rest.
“When the flag came off the airplane… I’ve officiated at a number of military funerals, but when you know who is in the casket, it’s very different. It’s very moving,” said Larry Leonard.
His uncle is Pfc. Thomas Clark Stagg, killed in action Nov. 29, 1950 during an enemy ambush near Hajoyang-ni, North Korea.
“It’s a Memorial Day we’ll never forget,” said Leonard.
Pfc. Thomas Stagg was out on patrol with 10 other paratroopers during the Korean War when they were overcome by enemy forces. All 11 men were declared dead and missing in action.
“Robin and I both remember our mother talking so much about her brothers and so much wanting Tommy to be home,” said Leonard.
“It was, I guess, just relief. Because I never ever… I really just had given up. I said this isn’t going to happen in my lifetime,” said Robin Croswhite, Stagg’s niece.
But after 67 years, it finally did. Stagg was laid to rest at Elmwood Cemetery with full military honors. Leonard said it’s the first time the entire family has been together since 1948.
“It just seems so appropriate that this should happen this day,” said Leonard.
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Leonard said his son chose Memorial Day for the service. Stagg’s brother died fighting in World War II, and they wanted to honor him as well.
“And let this even mean more not for us but for all members of the armed services that have died and what is the real meaning of Memorial Day,” explained Leonard.
He said they grew up hearing stories about both men from their mother whom he said loved them very much.
“i know she’d be very grateful. I don’t know that she’d say anything. She was always kind of quiet about a lot of things. But she’d be happy I know that,” said Leonard.
Today, more than 7,500 Americans still remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), but Pfc. Stagg is no longer among them.