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Return of WWII veteran remains ends seven decade wait

LIBERTY, MISS– The remains of Marine Private First Class James Smith of Liberty were buried on Monday, 73 years after his death. 

DNA evidence linked Smith to the family of his nephew, whom he never met, that still lives in Liberty.

“A private group called (History Flight) located the remains,” Patriot Guard Captain Don McKibben said. “He was identified.. and that resulted in notifying the next of kin and bringing him home.”

McKibben is the state captain of Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcyclist to strive to honor servicemen by doing funeral escorts, events, memorials and more.

“This one is unique to us,” said McKibben. “He is the first World War II veteran we’ve had to be returned.”

Three Korean veterans’ remains have come back to Mississippi, but over 70 listed missing-in-action or killed-in-action have never been returned.

McKibben said that PFC Smith’s story brought a wait of over seven decades to an end.

“They (his parents) had hoped that one day he would be returned,” said McKibben. “They purchased a monument and had it mounted next to their graves there in Liberty, Mississippi.”

While Smith’s parents have long been buried in their own graves, the wish they had for their son has finally come true 73 years after his death.

“At that monument is where he is buried today,” said McKibben.

It is believed that PFC Smith died in November of 1943 at “Assault on Beach Red Two” in the Gilbert Islands. He was just 19 years old.

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