Oct. 18—Around 3:30 p.m. on today, the remains of U.S. Army Sgt. Stanley Lee DeWitt will return home to Cass County almost 71 years after he was listed missing in action.
DeWitt's remains were among 55 bodies repatriated from North Korea, where the Royal Center native died at the age of 18. This happened after the 2018 Singapore summit between President Donald J. Trump and D.P.R.K. (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un.
The plane carrying DeWitt's remains from Honolulu is expected to touch down in Indianapolis at 1:26 p.m. Members of his family plan to be there, and DeWitt will be driven up Indiana 29/421 with the Indiana Patriot Guard and the POW/MIA Rolling Thunder providing a motorcycle escort.
Once in Logansport, the motorcade will go north on Burlington Avenue, east on East Market Street and north on Sixth Street, then take Michigan Avenue to Fisher Funeral Chapel on Chase Road.
In DeWitt's obituary, the family asked that people who wish to pay their respects line the streets safely. The Indiana State Police will oversee the last leg of the journey.
"This is probably beyond our wildest dreams," said DeWitt's nephew, Eddie DeWitt Sr. "Thank God we can bring him home where he belongs, and it's just a relief."
He said that he wishes his father, Raymond, and Uncle Charles could've been here to see it.
They were the ones who gave DNA in 2001 to be able to identify any remains that could've been their brother, and Raymond did a lot of research on the matter.
The last of the DeWitt siblings, Walter, died in 2020.
Some family members recall Sgt. DeWitt, although they were young.
Jerry Reynolds was 3 when he last saw Sgt. DeWitt, his uncle, and Wendell DeWitt said he was 10 when the family received the news of his cousin as MIA.
The Army contacted Reynolds first about the positive identification of Sgt. DeWitt's remains.
"I had some mixed feelings," Reynolds said. "The parents and all the siblings are gone, and they have no idea this is happening."
"At the same time, I feel good about it," Reynolds continued. "We're bringing him home."
Reynolds mostly remembers what he heard from the family: that DeWitt was a great guy.
Wendell DeWitt recalls seeing him at family reunions, but Wendell's older brother, who died recently, was the one DeWitt hung around with.
The DeWitt family has always been involved in the military.
Eddie DeWitt Jr., who's served 21 years in the U.S. Marines, said, "it's a family tradition."
"I grew up with Uncle Stanley's picture on the wall," he said. "He was definitely someone who inspired us."
One of his sisters has been in the Marines eight years, and another is retiring from the U.S. Navy Seabees.
Reynolds was nine years in the National Guard, and his brother was a Marine.
With that kind of family history, "it kind of puts a special meaning to it," Eddie DeWitt Sr. said.
Sgt. DeWitt was a medic with the Medical Detachment 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division. He enlisted on Jan. 17, 1949, about a year and six months before the Korean War began.
"Stanley was ready for a change and joined the Army," Eddie DeWitt Sr. said.
Sgt. DeWitt visited home in July 1950 on a 26-day furlough before going on to Japan. It was the last time his family and friends here would see him alive.
The Army sent him to Korea in August, and from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, he was part of a medical attachment in enemy territory near Chosin Reservoir.
He was a corporal during the battle, but based on his actions during the fighting, but the Army posthumously promoted him to sergeant based on the circumstances of his death and his distinguishing himself heroically.
According to a Pharos-Tribune article shortly after his death, "During this period, elements of a field artillery battalion were attacked and surrounded by numerically superior enemy forces, but Sgt. DeWitt performed his duties efficiently and courageously despite many handicaps."
"With complete disregard for his own safety, he exposed himself repeatedly to render first aid to the wounded," the article continued. "While in full view of the enemy and exposed to small arms fire, he removed the wounded to a private house to protect them from the sub-zero weather. He inspired renewed confidence to the wounded and helped minimize the effect of the enemy action on the casualties."
The Department of Defense records set Dec. 6, 1950, as the day Sgt. DeWitt died and notified his family by telegraph on Jan. 3, 1951, that he was missing in action.
"It's like you really didn't have any closure," Eddie DeWitt Sr. said.
After the remains of the 55 soldiers went to Honolulu to be tested, the box that held Sgt. DeWitt was the 54th one that scientists and Army personnel opened.
Wendell DeWitt said that after a while, the family had wondered if they've ever have Sgt. DeWitt back.
"It's been something that's been going on for a long while," he said. "I'm sure there'll be closure in the family."
That includes among the younger ones who just knew Sgt. DeWitt's story and his photo.
Reynolds said, "The whole family feels it'll be a big relief to have him home where he belongs, with his family."
Sgt. DeWitt will be buried in the Royal Center Cemetery, near his parents, George Raymond DeWitt and Hazel Katherine DeWitt.
On Saturday, a public visitation will happen from noon to 2 p.m. at Fisher Funeral Chapel, 1801 Chase Road, Logansport. The funeral service will be at 2 p.m.
The Rev. Carolyn DeWitt, married to Wendell, will officiate at the service.
People may view the livestream of the service at www.fisherfuneralchapel.com.
Eddie DeWitt Jr. said he's waiting to hear from people in congressional offices about who will attend.
After the service, the funeral procession goes through downtown Logansport on Chase Road to Michigan Avenue, heading south on Sixth Street then west on Broadway to West Market Street, where the procession will eventually head north on U.S. 35 toward the Royal Center Cemetery, according to his obituary.
Sgt. DeWitt's obituary encourages well-wishers to line the procession route with a patriotic show of support.
DeWitt will receive full military honors, as accorded by the U.S. Army, including the Army's caisson unit.
The Cass County Honor Guard will assist as the Color Guard. Members of the Indiana Patriot Guard and the POW/MIA Rolling Thunder will provide a motorcycle escort.
During a private service for the family, the Army will posthumously award Sgt. DeWitt with medals, which include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Medical Badge, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
It'll all be a sense of relief more than sorrow.
"I think 'congratulations' at this point," Eddie DeWitt Sr. said. "The condolences were years ago. I think now it's more of a homecoming."
People can also honor Sgt. DeWitt's memory by making a contribution to the Royal Center Alumni Association Scholarship Fund.
Reach James D. Wolf Jr. at email@example.com or 574-732-5117