October 27, 2021

70 years later, Lansing soldier accounted for

Cpl. Richard Legrand Henderson Jr. was only 18 years old when he was killed in the Korean War. Seventy years later, he’ll receive a proper burial.

More than 5.7 million Americans served during the Korean War. Almost 40,000 Americans died in action there, and more than 100,000 were wounded. Millions grieved for the soldiers whose lives were changed, and for those whose lives were lost.

Nearly 70 years later, some soldiers reported missing in action are finally accounted for, and Cpl. Henderson’s remains will be returning home to Lansing for burial on July 23.

Henderson was last seen fighting the enemy during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir near Hagaru, North Korea. He was declared missing on Dec. 6, 1950, amid the brutal 17-day battle in freezing weather that left more than 1,000 Americans dead, nearly 5,000 missing and more than 4,500 wounded.

Henderson was presumed dead more than three years later. His remains could not be recovered after the battle.

On July 27, 2018, following the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, North Korea turned over 55 boxes, reported to contain the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War. The remains were brought to the Defense POW/ MIA Account Agency laboratory for identification using anthropological analysis.

Henderson’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with others who are still missing.

Another’s wait continues Patricia Henry Arnold, 78, is still waiting for her brother, Robert “Bobby” Millard Henry, to be accounted for.

She was 10 years old when he left for the war. Nearly a lifetime later, she continues to hold on to the hope that his remains will be found — along with the closure her family desperately craves.

“There wasn’t anything that any of us Henrys could ever cope with — there was no such thing as cope,” she said, her voice choked with tears, before taking a moment to clear her throat and continue. “I would want to encourage anyone, any family member who has lost a loved one in this way, to never give up.”

Henry, of Blodgett Mills, was only four days younger than Henderson and grew up less than 23 miles away. He was 21 when he was listed as Missing in Action while fighting the enemy at “Pork Chop Hill,” North Korea on July 11, 1953.

The Korean Armistice Agreement, marking the beginning of the still-existing ceasefire between North and South Korea, was signed only 16 days later.

“I watched my parents suffer — not knowing if their son would come home,” Arnold said. She wrote to the president, to government officials in California and New York, begging them to see how unfair it was for Bobby Henry, and later her other brothers, to be sent to the frontlines.

She recalled hearing her mother’s screams after receiving the news of Henry’s MIA status. Her cries carried through the house. The children stood motionless, in shock. One year later, they would receive notice of “the presumptive finding of death,” Arnold read from the letters she keeps by her side.

Vet keeps the faith

In recent years, Norm Stitzel, a Marine Corps veteran and active member in the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in Cortland, has said goodbye to the last of his Korean War veteran friends in Cortland County.

“I’m hoping to hear news of Corporal Henry’s remains being identified and brought back home to Blodgett Mills some day,” Stitzel said. He keeps in touch with military family members, including those like Arnold whose loved ones are still unaccounted for.

“My brother Skip and I had promised each other that Bobby would be accounted for, that we would get that call before we died,” she said. Lawrence “Skip” Henry, of McGraw, died in October 2019. “I’m holding on to that hope. Never give up. Never give up, not until you take your last breath.”

Now, Arnold and her two eldest brothers still alive are the only siblings who were old enough to remember Bobby Henry clearly. Two of them have submitted their DNA to the Department of POW/ MIA Account Agency in hopes that, if Bobby’s remains have made it back to the U.S., they will someday receive the same news as Henderson’s relatives and give him a proper burial.