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MIA Korean War soldier's remains come home to Ohio 73 years later

This picture taken in 1950, shows the official military photo of 18-year-old Billy DeBord of Miamisburg
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency
Billy DeBord (18) of Miamisburg, 1950

In February of 1950, 18-year-old Billy DeBord of Miamisburg joined the Army.

DeBord’s unit was deployed to Korea on July 18 of that year, just weeks after the war had begun there. One week after his deployment, on July 25, 1950, DeBord was reported missing in action. It would take the soldier more than 70 years to get home.

For the first three years, DeBord’s parents only knew that their son was missing in action. DeBord’s body hadn’t been found, and the Army had no evidence that he was a prisoner of war.

He was designated as presumed dead in 1953, and nothing more was known for 66 years.

Then, in 2019 the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency disinterred a set of remains listed as “Unknown X-945” from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

After extensive radiograph, dental, anthropological and DNA testing, the remains were determined to be those of young Billy DeBord. The 2023 confirmation came 73 years after he went missing.

This picture shows an Army representative presenting an honor flag to Bill Olson.
Jerry Kenney
The Army presents an honor flag to Bill Olson.

And this past Veterans Day, DeBord was re-interred at Highland Memorial Cemetery in Miamisburg. Attending the funeral service were family, friends, and local veterans who wanted to pay their respects to the soldier who was finally home.

Military honor guard members acting as pallbearers carried DeBord’s casket to the grave site and a military chaplain delivered the eulogy.

DeBord’s namesake, nephew Bill Olson of Suffolk, Virginia, said the funeral service is something the family has worked for for a long time.

For over 20 years I have been traveling to Washington D.C., to the council (attending) their briefings, arguing with them, screaming at them, (them) screaming back at me,” he said. “You know, we were trying to get our loved ones home, and it's just not us. There's thousands — thousands. And what it means is that they never stop.”

Olson described the service as an ending of sorts, but his cousin Pamela Spurlock of Dayton said she sees it as a beginning.

Uncle Billy was the oldest son and first born, and he was the first born grandchild on his paternal side,” she said. “So the sun just set on him, and he was much loved, and grandma was devastated when this happened. So, for me, you say this is the ending, but this is very exciting.”

In this picture, from Left to Right: Cousins; Pamela Spurlock of Dayton, Theresa Smith-Tayse of Dayton, Bill Olson of Suffolk, VA, and Chuck Hopkins of Miamisburg.
Jerry Kenney
From Left to Right: Cousins; Pamela Spurlock of Dayton, Theresa Smith-Tayse of Dayton, Bill Olson of Suffolk, VA, and Chuck Hopkins of Miamisburg.

Another cousin, Chuck Hopkins of Miamisburg, described the kind of young man his Uncle Billy was before going off to war.

Recently, my wife's uncle died," Hopkins said. "But before he died, I asked him, ‘Did you know Bill DeBord?’ And he was like, ‘No, no, I didn't know him.’"

Then the relative remembered he had played high school football with DeBord.

"'You mean hard head DeBord?’ I said, ‘Hard head?’" Hopkins said. "And he goes, ‘Yeah, we didn't have facemasks back then, and he used to run down the field. He was a halfback. He'd run down the field and he would just run that head into people all the way down the field, they called him Hard head DeBord."

But Hopkins also remembered the pain his mother felt through the years having lost her older brother. And he remembers the pain his grandmother carried for years after losing her only son.

I remember as a kid I would sit with my grandmother, and she would fall asleep in that loveseat,” he recounted. “And as she would fall asleep, she would play with the curls on the back of my hair. And she'd fall asleep and I'd get up, and I’d just get to her front door and she'd wake up and go, ‘Billy, don't leave me.’ And it was like, 'Oh my God, it's still, all those years later, it still hurts her.' And I just wish she was here to see it, too, just for a second. It would have helped her a lot.”

“But they're together in heaven,” said Theresa Smith-Tayse of Dayton. “All of them together in heaven. So that makes me very happy.”

Smith-Tayse, Hopkins, Spurlock and Olson are the children of DeBord’s four younger sisters. All born after his death, but no less welcoming to the sense of closure his return has brought. The sense of closure that many families who have lost loved ones in past wars still long for.

Thousands of remains from those conflicts still need to be identified, but progress is being made everyday according to the agency working to identify those remains. Find out more here.

Jerry Kenney

Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials . In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.