The body of a Grundy County man who died fighting in the Korean War was finally laid to rest Saturday, nearly 63 years after he disappeared.
Glen Schoenmann's family thought they would die never knowing what happened, but the soldier's remains were recently discovered and identified through DNA tests.
The Department of Veterans Affairs transported Schoenmann's body home Thursday, and a memorial service Friday paid tribute to a man whose story inspired many in Middle Tennessee.
Schoenmann went from farm boy to soldier overnight when he entered the service. Then, just six months into his service in the Army, he disappeared during the infamous Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea in 1950.
He fell into enemy hands, became a prisoner of war and died overseas.
"Just heartbroken, but happy. We're so thankful that he's getting to come home with this honor," said sister Edna Kilgore. "I cried. I said, 'Thank the Lord. We can have a memorial for him.'"
A ceremony Thursday at Nashville International Airport included full military honors and a flag-draped casket, and all of the surviving family members received special pins to honor their brother's military service.
The family will hold the funeral at Grundy County High School followed by burial.
"This demonstrates the will of the United States to bring everyone home. We have vowed to the families of our prisoners and our missing that they will not be forgotten," said Tennessee Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder.
But with the good news, came the bad. The family also learned difficult details about the soldier's death.
"They gave me a booklet, and in the booklet there was an interview with one of the boys that was in prison. And I started to read it, but I couldn't read it. It was so horrible. I haven't read it yet," said brother Ernest Schoenmann.
Despite the pain, the homecoming Thursday seemed a celebration, because a family finally could say both "hello" and "goodbye."
"He's back on American soil, and he'll be resting with my mom and dad. We're so happy," Kilgore said.
Veteran's remains found six decades later
Glen Schoenmann was a typical Grundy County teenager. He worked before and after school for a solid 12-hour day, every day.
"He could do anything on the farm that they needed him to do. He could ride the horses or get an old mule if he needed. He was just an old country farm boy to start with," said brother Raymond Schoenmann.
Raymond Schoenmann - who was 16 years old at the time - remembers the moment his brother was declared missing.
"Mom got the telegram, and I couldn't stand there with her, because it was just too hard. She was taking it real hard," he said.
Decades passed and hope faded before being rekindled eight years ago when representatives from the Army visited to collect DNA samples from Schoenmann's sister, Edna Kilgore. They were going to Korea to look for missing soldiers from old prisoner of war camps.
Again, the family was left to wait, but that all changed with a recent phone call.
"He said, 'I've got good news for you. Glen's bones have been identified.' And I said, 'it's good news and it's sad news,'" Kilgore said. "So, I cried."
The Army was expected to give more details on how they found Glen Schoenmann, but they believe he was wounded and died in a POW camp.
While the family said they never thought they would live for this day, maybe they actually did - because they never bought their brother a gravestone. They talked about it, but they never could bring themselves to actually do it.
"All these years, we've been waiting to have a memorial for him. So it's happy," Kilgore said.
It is the second discovery of a longtime missing Middle Tennessee soldier in the last year.
Last fall, a Vietnam villager found the remains of Spc. Marvin Phillips - who grew up 10 miles from Schoenmann in little Grundy County - after he had been missing for 45 years.
Copyright WSMV 2013 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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