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Family credits DNA to finding long-lost Hadley man killed in Korean War

Perhaps it was fitting that Bonne Wolff said her father, Douglas Smead, received a call this past St. Patrick’s Day that the remains of his brother, Army Cpl. Walter A. Smead, who was killed in the Korean War, were finally identified.

“Dad had been waiting 70 years to hear something about his brother, so it was just incredible,” she said in a phone interview.

Walter A. Smead, who grew up in Hadley, was reporting missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950. He was a member of Battery A, 57th Field Artillery Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division, which was attacked by enemy forces as they attempted to withdraw near the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, according to a news release.

His remains were not recovered at the time, but they were among the 55 boxes turned over by North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un to President Donald Trump following a summit on July 27, 2018.

“From what I understand, they were excavating for new power plant, nuclear reactor. They come across remains,” Wolff said.

“Walter’s remains were in box 38.”

Wolff said two of Smead’s arm bones were found and analyzed. Wolff’s father had provided a genetic sample in 2004.

“DNA is a wonderful thing,” he said.

Sean Everette, spokesman for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, said there were more than 200 sets of remains contained in those 55 boxes.

Agency employees went through all of the remains and analyzed and cataloged them. They also sent samples of the bones to the DNA identification laboratory at the Armed Forces Medical Examiners System.

“They analyzed the DNA from the bones and cross-referenced that with a database that they have that’s dedicated solely to the DNA from family members from missing and unaccounted-for service members,” he said.

The family had not given up. Her father even enlisted in the service in the 1950s to see if he could find out what happened to his brother. But, he did not find anything.

Wolff said her uncle enlisted in the service when he was 17 near the end of World War II. She believes he wanted to improve his life.

“He was just out of school. I don’t think there were a lot of opportunities. His older brother had been in the service as well, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some encouragement there as well,” she said.

Walter Smead returned home for a little while and then was deployed to Korea, according to Wolff.

Smead’s unit was assigned to replace the 5th Marine Regiment on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir. They arrived at the P’ungnyuri Inlet on Nov. 27, 1950.

The Chinese Communist Forces launched a surprise attack against the 31st Regimental Combat Team.

“The Marines got out and then the Chinese came in and totally overwhelmed them,” Wolff said.

The attacks continued through Dec. 1, when the combat team retreated to the town of Hagaru-ri at the base of the Chosin Reservoir.

They then were pushed back to a place on a defensive perimeter surrounding the town. The Chinese attacked their positions on the evening of Dec. 3 and again overnight on Dec. 5-6.

The unit then withdrew to Hamhung. However, Smead went missing in action.

Wolff praised the work that the DPAA has done to give families as much information as officials can about the process and let people know what has been going on with the search. They hold regular conferences.

“You keep hoping that they’ll still find their loved ones’ remains. They just do a phenomenal job. It’s a great division in the service,” she said.

The family got that life-changing call on March 17. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency sent out a news release on Wednesday about the findings.

Smead will be buried Sept. 20 in the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.

“I would encourage anyone who has lost servicemen, soldiers in other countries to give the DNA samples. You never know what you’re going to get,” Wolff said.

Michael Goot covers politics, crime and courts, Warren County, education and business. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com.

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