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COVID-19 postpones military funeral for Korean War soldier missing for 70 years

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William Lee Brown Korean war

(WSIL) -- A family originally from Franklin County has waited nearly 70 years to give their loved one a proper burial, and now they're going to have to wait a little bit longer after COVID-19 postponed his military rites.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced in January that the remains of Sesser native Army Cpl. William L. Brown were accounted for on October 17, 2019.

Brown, 18, was a member of Company B, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

His sister Clarice Burchell was just a young girl when he signed up for the Army and remembers he was so eager to join that he lied about his birth date and was actually only 17 when he enlisted.

He was reported missing in action on December 2, 1950, following an attack by enemy forces in the area of the Chosin Reservoir, North Korea.

According to Burchell, the day her brother went missing actually marked his 18th birthday.

In July of 2018, North Korea turned over 55 boxes containing the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War. The remains were sent to the DPAA laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman for identification.

Scientists used circumstantial evidence, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNR analysis to identify the remains as Cpl. Brown.

Burchell told News 3's Brooke Schlyer that her and her son offered up DNA just in case his body was ever found and that she never got the chance to properly grieve until that single bone had been identified.

"I found out that because I was unable to grieve at his passing, at his death," she explains. "Passing I think is too easy of a word to say. I was just totally amazed, and I found out that as I talk about him the tears come again."

Although there is a marker at Mound City National Cemetery for Brown, he was set to have a military funeral on April 3rd. The honor has been postponed at this time due to social distancing as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Burchell says patience comes with age and that she is at peace with waiting a little longer to hold the ceremony, so that her brother can have the burial that he deserves.

"It's one of those things that we have to live through our years of experience and that is learning patience, " she explains. "Patience is hard to learn and it's a life-long process. "

His remains are currently still in Hawaii where his body was identified and will return home to southern Illinois when another military funeral date is set.

Brown was a true American hero being awarded the Purple Heart, the Republic of Korea War Service Medal by the Republic of South Korea and numerous other military medals.

Brooke Schlyer

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