By Mary Grace Keller
For more than 70 years, Sgt. Roy “Buddy” Charles DeLauter’s family wondered what became of him after his unit was sent to fight in the Korean War.
Then in 2018, North Korea returned to the United States 55 boxes reported to contain remains of U.S. service members.
On Tuesday, Buddy came home.
Guided by a motorcade of flashing lights, DeLauter’s casket arrived at Rest Haven Funeral Home in Hagerstown on Tuesday evening. A funeral will be held Friday.
DeLauter was a Smithsburg resident at the time of his death, but his sisters say the family spent about 13 years of his childhood in the Wolfsville area.
DeLauter joined the U.S. Army in 1948, before the Korean War broke out, and went to Japan for training. He was a member of Company D, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Chinese Communist Forces launched an attack against the U.S. Nov. 27, 1950, where DeLauter's unit was on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, according to the POW/MIA agency. The outnumbered 32nd Infantry was forced to withdraw south Dec. 1, but enemy fire and roadblocks made the route "extremely treacherous," the agency said in its profile of DeLauter.
He was reported killed in action Dec. 1, 1950, at 21 years old. His family wouldn’t learn the details until much later.
The label, “missing in action,” provided no closure to those who wanted to know the fate of their brother, father and friend.
“I always wondered where my dad was,” Sharlene DeLauter, 74, of Smithsburg said Tuesday.
She was about 3 years old when her dad went missing. Her sister, Sue, was going on 2.
Sharlene DeLauter grew up watching old war movies, hoping she’d catch a glimpse of her father in the footage. As a teen, she remembers the sting that came with hearing other children discuss Father’s Day plans.
Hoping for a miracle, Sharlene DeLauter collected blood samples from two of her father’s sisters roughly 12 years ago and sent them to the Army to keep on file. She’s now encouraging others with missing loved ones to do the same by contacting the missing member’s military branch.
Scientists got to work after the boxes of remains arrived from North Korea to Hawaii in 2018, according to the POW/MIA agency. One of these boxes reportedly contained remains from the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, and lab analysis revealed they belonged to DeLauter. Scientists used “anthropological and isotope analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence,” plus DNA analysis, to identify DeLauter, according to a news release from the agency.
Sharlene DeLauter learned in May, after the U.S. Army declassified the information, that another soldier witnessed her father’s death.
DeLauter’s elder sister, Evelyn Rae DeLauter Eccard, was at the doctor’s office in January when she got the news that her brother had been found. Sharlene DeLauter was with her, but she was not answering her phone.
Eccard had just been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Sharlene’s sister came to meet them and deliver the news about Buddy. Eccard, 93, broke down in tears. They were tears of joy.
“This is the best thing that’s ever happened,” Eccard, of Halfway in Washington County, said on Tuesday.
She remembers her brother as a mischievous young man. They were close, and he wrote her letters while he was away in the military.
He loved music, sang and learned to play the harmonica at 10 years old, according to his obituary. He had a knack for locating four-leaf clovers.
Eccard hoped her brother would be found before she died.
“I’d been praying for so long,” she said.
DeLauter was one of six children — three boys and three girls.
His younger sister, Gladys Jane DeLauter Kline, remembers that their mother watched TV all day when the Korean War prisoners of war were released. She thought it was possible her son could be among them.
“We realized he wasn’t coming home,” said Kline, 91, who lives in the Smithsburg area.
She said it’s a relief to know her brother was found, one she wishes other members of the family were alive to share. DeLauter’s parents and brothers died before he was identified. His wife has also died.
Kline kept a wooden carving in her kitchen that her long lost brother made for her. A wooden man, standing about 18 inches high, holds a sign that says, “Welcome.”
DeLauter was a skilled carpenter, Kline said, like other men in their family. He worked at Brandt Cabinet Works in Hagerstown.
“I never thought I’d see him in my lifetime come home,” Kline said.
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