U.S. Army Cpl. Asa E. Vance was returned to his family on Monday, more than 70 years after leaving Decatur to serve in the Korean War.
“That’s a long time to be away from your country,” said his niece Alma Andrews.
Andrews was on hand Monday when Vance was released from an American Airlines cargo hold at Lambert International Airport, carried by honor guard to a waiting hearse and escorted by a contingent of Patriot Guard Riders and State Highway Patrol to Decatur.
Funeral services with full military honors for Vance will be at noon Friday in the First Christian Church in Springfield, with the burial at 2 p.m. in Camp Butler National Cemetery, Springfield.
“It’s going to be an interesting day, that’s for sure,” Andrews said.
Vance was a member of Company D, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, and was reported missing in action Dec. 2, 1950, near the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, after his unit was attacked by enemy forces.
Vance, who was 18 years old when he went missing, was listed as presumed dead by the Army in 1954. Still, family members continued to hold out hope of his safe return.
In a Decatur Daily Review article at the time, his mother said “everyone holds out hope” about those missing still being alive.
A 2018 meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un resulted in more than 55 boxes of war-dead remains being turned over to the United States. Some boxes of remains were recovered from Sinhung-ri and were consistent with where Vance was reported missing in action. Analysts eventually identified Vance among the remains.
Andrews, another niece, his brother and a nephew were located by the military to conduct DNA testing. “That’s how they traced Asa back to us,” Andrews said.
Vance’s return to Central Illinois were delayed because of COVID restrictions.
Joe and Carol Stepping of Stonington stood along Illinois 48 Monday as the remains of Vance travel through the village.
“It’s the least we could do,” Joe Stepping said.
Carol Stepping wanted to show support for the family, because of her connection with other military families. Her father was a World War II veteran and her brothers and cousins also served during the Vietnam War. “It was a privilege to honor (Vance) for his service,” she said. “And I’m kind of thankful for my family being able to return home.”
Stonington resident Carter Walton, 20, watched as the procession of vehicles and motorcycles drove down the highway. He is a member of the Army ROTC.
“I figured I should be here,” he said.
The procession was an emotional event for Walton.
“I kind of teared up,” he said. “It was heartfelt to see everyone come out. It shows that there’s still support for people, even if they’ve been gone for years.”
Andrews, who still lives in Decatur, said most of the surviving family are attempting to be at Friday’s services to honor a fallen soldier.
Vance was one of 15 children, all of whom have had died. “There was quite a bunch,” Andrews said.
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