59 years later, a funeral for Korean War casualty

Donald Stidham doesn't know a lot about his half-brother, Lloyd Stidham, who went missing in action during the Korean War in November 1950, the year before Donald was born.

Donald, who lives in Stamping Ground, has a few pictures of Lloyd and remembers some stories their parents used to tell. But details are few.

All Donald knows for sure is that his half-brother's remains are finally coming home, and that's what really matters.

"It's what Mom and Dad wanted for many, many years," Donald, 57, says with a catch in his voice. "But both of them died without ever knowing what really happened to Lloyd."

The Pentagon officially confirmed on April 3 that the remains of Army Cpl. Lloyd Dale Stidham, a Breathitt County native, had been found in a North Korean grave and identified. The remains of three other American soldiers were found with him.

Lloyd Stidham's remains, which were identified through DNA testing, arrived in Lexington by plane Saturday night.

Funeral services for the soldier, who was 18 when he died, will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Harrodsburg Road. Burial with full military honors will follow at Camp Nelson National Cemetery, where Lloyd's Stidham's three half-brothers, various nieces and other family members will finally get to say goodbye to a loved one who has been missing so long that they barely remember him.

"I think it will be pretty emotional for all of us," Donald Stidham said.

Hundreds of other Kentucky families are still waiting for their lost loved ones to come home from distant wars.

About 1,250 Kentuckians are missing in action from World War II, according to the state Department of Veterans Affairs. An additional 203 Kentuckians were missing from the Korean War — but that number has been reduced by one, now that Lloyd Stidham has been found.

"We've waited almost 60 years; it's been tough," said Ronnie Stidham, 61, of Georgetown, another of Lloyd's half-brothers.

Lloyd Stidham was born Jan. 25, 1932, to Andrew and Emma Noble Stidham, who lived at Saldee, in Breathitt County. His parents later divorced, and when Lloyd was about 6 his father married Alpha Cornett, who raised Lloyd "like one of her own," the family said.

"He was a good child, I've heard Momma say that," Donald Stidham said. "But he had a hard life."

Lloyd joined the U.S. Army about 1948, tacking two years onto his age to fool recruiters.

"Times were hard, and the Army was a way to get out of Eastern Kentucky," Donald said. "So he lied about his age."

Little is known of Lloyd Stidham's early army career. But his outfit, Company C, 65th Combat Engineer Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, arrived in Korea about a month after the war began in June 1950. That fall, after joining U.S. forces that were pushing into North Korea, the unit occupied a position called Hill 22, near the Camel's Head Bend of the Kuryong River.

There, on Nov. 25, 1950, the outfit was overrun by a large Communist Chinese force.

Back home, the Stidham family received word that Lloyd was missing, but could only wait, wonder and pray for word about his ultimate fate. That word never came.

Lloyd's father and stepmother moved in 1952 to Lee County, where they kept his picture on their living room wall. It stayed there until they died within weeks of each other in 1999.

Only about a year later, a team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command — the federal agency that searches for U.S. soldiers missing in action — found and recovered remains in the Kuryong River area of North Korea that were thought to be those of American soldiers.

Stidham family members, who had all but given up hope of ever learning anything about Lloyd, suddenly started getting requests from the Army for DNA samples that could be used to determine if any of the remains belonged to Lloyd. Testing, however, requires mitochondrial DNA passed through the mother's side of a family, which meant that none of Lloyd's half-brothers could donate samples.

Eventually, however, a distant cousin on Lloyd's mother's side of the family stepped forward to provide a sample.

"It was his momma's mother's sister's child that gave it, and we've never met that girl," Donald Stidham said. "We don't know where she lives, but apparently she's somewhere in the Cincinnati-Dayton area."

After conducting tests using that genetic sample, Army authorities were finally able to tell the family a few weeks ago that Lloyd Stidham's remains had been found.

"We're very thankful," Donald Stidham said. "The Defense Department has worked awfully hard to bring closure for our family and many others like us. You have to give them a lot of respect."

Donald Stidham said the Army also was able to confirm that Lloyd and the soldiers found with him were executed by Chinese troops after they had surrendered. It also appears that the remains were moved at least twice over the years, he said.

The soldiers whose remains were found with Lloyd were identified as Cpl. Samuel Harris Jr., of Rogersville, Tenn., Cpl. Robert Schoening of Blaine, Wash.; and a third man whose name has not yet been released. The Pentagon previously had identified a fifth soldier whose remains were found with the group as 1st Lt. Dixie Parker.

According to Donald Stidham, the remains of all five men were found in the same foxhole. Some of the remains were so intermingled it was not possible to identify them individually, he said.

According to the Pentagon, those undifferentiated remains will be buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery later this spring.

"They've asked us to attend, and if the Lord is willing I will be there with my family," Donald Stidham said.

For now, the family is focusing on Monday's services.

"It's not for us; we want the glorification to be for Lloyd," Donald said. "He was just a kid, trying to better himself, who went into the Army and got killed.

"We have our freedom today because Lloyd and people like him sacrificed their lives for us."