Va. Guard Soldier welcomes home grandfather’s remains after 64 years

The remains of Cpl. Lindsey Lockett, who died in a prisoner of war camp in North Korea 64 years ago, return home to Richmond, Va., April 9, 2015, to his widow, son and grandson, Sgt. Leonardo Lockett, who serves in the Virginia National Guard's Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion.(Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The remains of Cpl. Lindsey Lockett, who died in a prisoner of war camp in North Korea 64 years ago, return home to Richmond, Va., April 9, 2015, to his widow, son and grandson, Sgt. Leonardo Lockett, who serves in the Virginia National Guard’s Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion.(Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

RICHMOND, Va. – The remains of Cpl. Lindsey Lockett, who died as a POW during the Korean War, returned home to Richmond, Va., April 9, 2015, after 64 years. Lockett was welcomed home planeside by his widow, son and grandson, Sgt. Leonardo Lockett, who serves in the Virginia National Guard’s Powhatan-based 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion.

Lockett was a 24-year-old medic with the 503rd Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division when he was taken prisoner Dec. 1, 1950. He and his fellow Soldiers were near Somin-dong, North Korea when their unit was overwhelmed by Chinese forces. At home, his wife Anna, 17, had just given birth to a son, Sgt. Lockett’s father, Lindsey Lockett, Jr.

“For my dad, he never met his father,” Sgt. Lockett said. “He was born 10 days before he was captured.”

The Locketts knew when Cpl. Lockett was taken prisoner, and, based on prisoner reports from the men he was in captivity with, they were able to approximate when he died.

“The Soldiers who put his body in the ground, they said it was spring,” Sgt. Lockett explained. He said they didn’t have a calendar, didn’t have a sure way to tell the date, but it was the spring of 1951, either May or April. In official records, Cpl. Lockett, born Sept. 10, 1926, in Richmond, Va., died on May 31, 1951.

The date of his captivity and the approximate date of his death were all the Lockett family had for years. They had reports from those he was captured with, reports that helped them piece together the remaining months of his life.

“They said he was a hard one when he was in captivity,” Sgt. Lockett explained. “They said he didn’t give in to any of their little tactics, and everything they did to him, he still stood strong to the values of the military.”

The whereabouts of Cpl. Lockett’s remains were one of the biggest mysteries to the family.

“We thought he was still in Korea,” explained Sgt. Lockett. “The reports came back to us that they were trying to still get permission from Korea to go and search some more areas where the camps were to find his remains. For years, me and my dad thought he was still over there and then this past year, they called us and said they’d found him.”

Sgt. Lockett said he wouldn’t have believed it if it wasn’t his father who called to relay the news of his grandfather’s identification. Citing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, Sgt. Lockett said he and his father feared Cpl. Lockett would never come home.

As it turns out, Cpl. Lockett’s remains had been returned to the United States in 1954, as part of a remains exchange program between the United Nations and Communist forces, in what came to be called “Operation Glory,” according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA. Lockett, and the remains of hundreds of other Korean War veterans, was sent to the Army Central Identification Unit in Japan for analysis. From there, unidentified remains were sent to Hawaii, where they were interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, commonly called the Punchbowl. There, Lockett, along with so many of his fellow fallen comrades, was labeled as “unknown.”

Because the remains had been exposed to formaldehyde, which degrades DNA to the point where it can’t be matched, other techniques had to be used in bringing Cpl. Lockett home.

“We initially thought he’d been found using DNA,” Sgt. Lockett explained. “But it was his collarbone.”

According to DPAA, recent advances in technology prompted the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii to re-examine records and determined that identifying some of the remains was now possible.

X-raying the chest cavities of Soldiers was a common practice when Lockett was sent to Korea as a means to screen incoming servicemembers for tuberculosis and other respiratory infections. Using that x-ray and newly developed technology, Cpl. Lockett’s remains were positively identified by scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Laboratory using “circumstantial evidence and chest radiography that matched his records,” according to DPAA.

Sgt. Lockett said special care was given to the collarbone, which he explained is particularly unique and useful in identifying remains.

For Sgt. Lockett and his father, who served in the Marine Corps, the return of Cpl. Lockett to his family after so many years embodied the U.S. military’s standard of never leaving a fallen comrade.

“The military never gave up on him,” Sgt. Lockett said. “After 65 years, they didn’t give up on my grandfather.”

Sgt. Lockett has no doubt that his grandfather’s service and sacrifice played a part in his own military service. He lists several family members who also served and said, “I always wanted to serve. I always wanted to help people, so that was my motive for doing it.”

It was cold the day Cpl. Lockett finally returned to Richmond. His plane had been delayed leaving Honolulu and once again in Atlanta, where a broken navigation system caused a three and a half hour delay. Finally, just before 5 p.m. on April 9, 2015, Cpl. Lockett was home.

“Welcome home, granddad,” Sgt. Lockett said when he heard the plane had finally landed at Richmond International Airport.

Sgt. Lockett watched from the tarmac, with his father and grandmother, as a funeral honors team from Fort Lee, Va., transferred Cpl. Lockett’s flag-draped casket from the belly of the plane to the hearse that would take him to his final resting place.

Above them, in the terminal, passengers waiting to board their flight to Atlanta watched the proceedings from the enormous glass windows. On the tarmac, airport security personnel, one a veteran of the Marine Corps and the other the Air Force, rendered a salute to Cpl. Lockett’s remains, just behind his grandson doing the same.

Two days later, on April 11, 2015, Cpl. Lockett reached his final resting place at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Richmond after a 65-year journey.

Photos: Va. Guard Soldier welcomes grandfather’s remains home after 64 years – April 9, 2015

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