Remains of ND native killed in Korean War return home
FARGO – Sixty-three years after he was killed in action in North Korea, Army Cpl. Cletus R. Lies came home.
At Fargo’s Hector International Airport on Monday, Lies’ remains and an American flag were carried by military personnel from an American Eagle jet that flew from Hawaii. The remains were placed in a maroon SUV so that his family can bury him with full military honors Thursday near his hometown of Bremen in central North Dakota.
Lies was one of thousands of American military personnel killed during the Korean War who remained unaccounted for until 1991, when North Korea began providing the U.S. with more than 200 boxes of human remains. DNA from those remains have been analyzed by scientists at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and used to identify the war dead, finally bringing closure to families like Lies’.
Today, 7,882 U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War remain unaccounted for.
Terry Richardson of Fargo led a group of more than 50 local veterans and veteran supporters through the airport and out onto the tarmac to pay respect to Lies upon his return.
“We’re honoring one of our deceased members,” explained Richardson, a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Members of the local American Legion, Vietnam Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars of Fargo and West Fargo, Patriotic Guard, American Veterans, West Fargo Ladies Auxiliary and Grand Forks Legion Riders lined up in two-by-two formation carrying flags and wearing military caps to honor the return of Lies.
Master Sgt. Larry Jacobson led 15 family members to the jet and watched as the urn containing Lies’ remains was placed in the SUV. He then led them out of the airport, followed by the dozens of veteran supporters.
Three sisters survive Lies, said Jacobson, the family’s spokesman.
Lies was 26 when he was killed while assigned to the 31st Regimental Combat Team, nicknamed Task Force Faith. On Nov. 29, 1950, the company was fighting east of the Chosin Reservoir when it began to withdraw to a different position. Lies was killed in action, but his remains were kept by the North Koreans.
That was until the period between 1991 and 1994, when North Korea gave the U.S. 204 boxes that are estimated to contain the remains of 350 to 400 American soldiers. DNA testing, along with documents provided by the North Koreans and circumstantial evidence, pointed to Lies as a match.
Once Lies’ identity was determined, his remains were flown with a military escort from Hawaii to Los Angeles to Chicago and finally to Fargo.
“He’s coming home,” Jacobson said.
While the family declined to comment, Jacobson said that “it’s been a pretty good experience” for them, and that they were glad that this process was able to take place.
Before leaving the tarmac, Richardson pointed out how unique the day was.
“Those are the remains that don’t often come back,” he said.