Sprawling American flags billowed over Fort Campbell Boulevard Wednesday as a motorcade of police cruisers, fire trucks and motorcycles rolled through Hopkinsville bringing home a formerly missing Korean War veteran to be laid to rest Friday.
A hearse at the center of the procession carried the remains of Private 1st Class James Cletuis Williams from Nashville International Airport to Maddux-Fuqua-Hinton Funeral Home.
Williams was 19 when he was killed in action July 20, 1950, in the vicinity of Taejon, Republic of Korea, according to a release from the funeral home.
He enlisted into the United States Army on Aug. 29, 1947, and served honorably with the Medical Company, 34th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division until his death. His remains, although unidentified at the time, were transferred to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, and buried with full military honors as a Korean War Unknown in Section U, Grave 675.
Through exhaustive, investigative efforts, Williams was successfully identified in 2018, but no living relatives have been identified.
“We're his family today,” said Marty Godsey, who traveled from Lexington with the Rolling Thunder Chapter 5 veterans nonprofit. “They probably told you he didn't have family, but he does and we're here.”
Rolling Thunder Chapter 5 spokesman Todd Matonich said the organization helps organize memorials once prisoners of war/missing in action are identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency whose mission is to recover missing personnel from all past wars and conflicts and from countries around the world.
“We make it a point to be there and escort them to get them home,” Matonich said. “It’s out of respect and patriotism more than anything … we want to make sure cities and families are aware if they have a POW/MIA.”
Godsey, a veteran of Desert Storm, said he came to the procession because “freedom is not free.
“There is a lot of sacrifice from our veterans, and they don't get the recognition they deserve,” Godsey continued. “These are my brothers and sisters that I served with. You get that sense of family and that bond doesn't leave once you leave the military.”
Godsey stood among a hundred motorcyclists who traveled from across Kentucky and Tennessee to pay their respects ahead of the funeral Friday, and many said they would return in two days when he’s laid to rest.
Once at the funeral home, Williams’ coffin was escorted inside with military honors as motorcyclists with the Patriot Guard Riders and Rolling Thunder gave salute.
His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart (posthumous), Army Good Conduct Medal (posthumous), Army Occupation Medal with Japan Clasp, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal (with 1 bronze service star), United Nations Service Medal, and the Combat Medical Badge.
Graveside services will be at 1 p.m. Friday at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-West with full military rites.
The procession will begin at noon Friday, leaving from the funeral home, 700 Country Club Lane, going east on Country Club Lane to Fort Campbell Boulevard. The procession will then go south on Fort Campbell Boulevard to the Kentucky Veteran's Cemetery-West.
Heidi Macomber, state liaison for Rolling Thunder, said community participation is welcome. Maddux-Fuqua-Hinton Funeral Home will have American flags for anyone to pick up to display the flags along the procession route.
“It’s not one group,” Macomber said. “It’s a community and all groups coming together to honor a soldier.”