By Sgt. Andrew Valenza, New York National Guard
Maj. Gen. Michel Natali, the assistant adjutant general of New York, joined New York Army National Guard Soldiers Sept. 20 to salute a Korean War Soldier whose remains were laid to rest 71 years after he fell in combat.
An Army National Guard Military Forces Honor Guard provided funeral honors and a firing party for the interment of Army Cpl. Walter Smead at the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery in Schuylerville.
Smead, who grew up in Hadley, went missing in December 1950 near Hagaru-ri, North Korea, during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
He served in Alpha Battery of the 57th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division.
His remains were among those handed over to the United States by the North Korean government in 2018.
Walter Smead had already served during World War II with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. The Smead family has had military connections in every generation, said cousin Stuart Smead, a retired Army lieutenant colonel.
“The Smead family has fought in almost every war,” Stuart Smead said.
During the last month of 1950, Smead’s battalion occupied the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, securing the flanks of the advancing 7th and 5th Marine Corps Regiments and the main supply route before attacking north toward the Manchurian border.
From Nov. 27 to Dec. 13, 1950, some 30,000 troops were attacked by 120,000 Chinese forces. Smead was reported missing in action Dec. 6 and, in 1953, presumed dead.
Smead’s remains were confirmed March 16, 2021, by the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. So far, 76 Soldiers have been identified from the 55 boxes of remains turned over to the United States.
During funeral honors, Honor Guard Soldiers folded the flag from the casket and presented it to Smead’s oldest living relative, his younger brother, Douglas, 85.
“It was great that we were able to bring some closure back to the Smead family,” Natali said, “particularly after 71 years. Such a large turnout really means something to the Smead family and their descendants that Cpl. Smead’s service stood for something.”
Douglas Smead’s niece, Bonnie Wolff, expressed thanks for the military honors and turnout of the community.
“It’s really important for Walter to be home. It gives the family closure,” Wolff said.
After an initial defensive fight, Smead battled with the remnants of the 31st Regimental Combat Team, known as Task Force Faith, for its commander, Lt. Col. Don Faith, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment. Faith led the force after the original commander was killed in action.
The task force fought off the Chinese 80th and 81st divisions before breaking out from its defensive positions Dec. 1. Smead was reported missing during that evacuation.
Of the 31st Regimental Combat’s 1,777 Soldiers, 1,392 were declared missing in action, unrecovered killed or prisoners of war.
A detachment of Korean War veterans joined the military forces honor guard in rendering final honors, with remarks from Paul O’Keefe, commander of the Korean War Veterans Association, Adirondack Chapter 60, and New York State chaplain for the veterans association.
O’Keefe brought together veterans associations to pay their final respects.
“I called every commander of our 24 state chapters and told them about our fallen brother … who was reported MIA,” O’Keefe said. “I condensed all their messages to offer our sincere condolences to every member of Cpl. Smead’s family and friends.”
In addition to the Army National Guard and Korean War veterans, dozens of fellow veterans, including the department commanders for the New York State Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, and Patriot Guard Riders escorted Smead’s remains to the national cemetery.
“The fact that there’s such a large presence here today from Smead’s hometown and across the region means that our community hasn’t forgotten him,” Natali said.
“The service today was impressive,” O’Keefe said. “This man sacrificed his life for the freedom we all enjoy. He deserves every minute of every kind of appreciation that’s given to him. He was a very special man.”
The funeral gave proper respect and closure to the memory of Cpl. Smead, Stuart Smead said.
“My family has been waiting for this day for decades,” he said.
The turnout and final honors after 71 years left an impression on the Smead family, Wolff said.
“This is better than I was hoping, all the people who have come out,” she said.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this,” O’Keefe said. “Coming down in the procession, the whole road, tractors, cars, trailers pulled over for us. People waved, some blew their horns. It was incredible; he deserved it. He was a true hero. A young kid that never had a chance to be a father or get married and have a life. He died too young, for our freedom.
“Rest in peace now, our brother, here on these hallowed grounds,” he said.