For nearly 70 years, William “Hoover” Jones’s family wondered what happened to him.
He left North Carolina as an 18-year-old boy from small town Nash County, off to Korea to fight as an infantryman in the U.S. Army. He has been missing-in-action since 1950.
On Thursday, he came home.
U.S. Army Private First Class Jones’s body was returned to his family in a casket adorned with an American flag. He was honored with salutes from veterans on the tarmac at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
His body was greeted by his three now-elderly sisters and other family members who’ve been waiting decades for answers about his disappearance. Those answers came last fall when the U.S. Army gave the family detailed records about Jones’s military service, his death and how they identified his body through DNA testing, the News & Observer’s news partner, ABC11, previously reported.
“We never gave up hope,” Elizabeth Ohree, Jones’ sister, told ABC11. “To hear the nice soldier tell in detail what happened, it really helped me to understand.”
Jones was a teenager when he went missing on the cold battlefield in an attack against Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces near Pakchon, North Korea. He couldn’t be found when his unit made a fighting withdrawal in November 1950.
Over the next three years the United Nations Command asked the enemy Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces and the Korean People’s Army for lists of American servicemen held as a prisoner of war. But Jones’ name never appeared on any lists and no other returning American prisoners had information about him.
On Dec. 31, 1953, the U.S. Army declared him deceased and his remains non-recoverable.
After his death, Jones was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
After Jones’s family wondered in silence for decades, some closure came last year.
In June 2018, President Donald Trump met with North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, marking the first time U.S. and North Korean leaders met. They agreed that North Korea would return the remains of American service members lost in the war.
In July 2018, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea turned over 55 boxes containing those unidentified remains. Jones was one of them.
Scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii used DNA analysis, dental, anthropological, chest radiograph comparison analysis and other physical evidence to identify PFC Jones’ remains.
His remains were processed, traveled by plane to Atlanta and then to North Carolina, where RDU Fire Rescue welcomed the plane with a water cannon salute. The casket was loaded into a black hearse by military color guard members and escorted out of the terminal. The Patriot Guard Riders accompanied the processional.
On Friday, Jones will lie in honor at the North Carolina State Capitol in downtown Raleigh. Gov. Roy Cooper will lay a wreath in his memory and give Jones’s family United States and North Carolina flags that have flown over the State Capitol.
Cooper also ordered North Carolina and United States flags to fly at half staff from sunup to sundown Friday to honor Jones and other soldiers who fought overseas and never came home. The public can pay their respects to Jones in the State Capitol from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.
Jones’s family will travel to Washington D.C. in August to bury his body in Arlington National Cemetery.