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Never Forgotten: North Alabama World War II, Korean War hero finally returns home

After seven decades, North Alabama native Army Corporal Henry Lewis Helms is finally laid to rest.

Posted: May 31, 2021 2:15 PM
Updated: May 31, 2021 3:02 PM

It took more than seven decades for U.S. Army Cpl. Henry "Lewis" Helms to make it home.

The DeKalb County, Alabama, native was laid to rest with full military honors on Saturday in Ringgold, GA.

U.S. Army Cpl. Henry "Lewis" Helms

After a tour of duty in World War II, Helms returned home after his family moved to Georgia.

His next calling: Korea, the "forgotten war" where he re-enlisted in 1948 and eventually deployed with D Company, 1st Battalion (Bn), 32nd Infantry (1/32INF), 7th Infantry Division (ID). Helms fought in one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War; the 17-day Battle of Chosin Reservoir, commonly called the "Frozen Chosin" for its bitterly cold conditions that American troops had to endure.

American forces were outnumbered four to one by the Chinese. Helms' unit was attacked by enemy forces.

At just 24 years old, Corporal Helms was declared missing in action and presumed dead on Dec. 2, 1950. His remains could not be recovered.

Helms was one of nine children. His only surving sibling Evelyn Snyder only remembers a string necklace tied to an old dime that her older brother Henry Lewis made for her.

"It's something that I've got from him, so it's pretty, pretty special," beamed Snyder.

Snyder held on to that memory and prayed for a miracle that one day her older brother would return home.

Just a few short weeks ago, Snyder's prayers were answered. She received a phone call from the U.S. military that her older brother was finally returning home for good.  DNA analysis matched samples given by Helms family members. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recently announced that Helms was accounted for April 16, 2020, but Covid-19 delayed the process of finally returning his remains home.

Helms' remains were in box 39 of the 55 boxes of repatriated Americans that North Korea turned over to the U.S. They arrived in August of 2018, just a few days after a summit between former President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

"Just knowing that he was on American soil. That was wonderful," said Snyder.

Now home, the final chapter of Henry Lewis Helms' life can be told for generations to come.

"Sometimes, you've got to give everything you've got and he did," said Regina Worley, Helms' niece. "I want my whole family to always know what he did. I want everybody to know that."

Helms' funeral and graveside service was attended by family, friends and even strangers who paid tribute to a young man who gave up his lifelong dreams by paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Veteran Michael Dowd drove all the way from Decatur, Illinois for a brief moment to remember, so that a fallen soldier is never forgetten.

It was worth it," said Dowd. "When you do something like that for your country, your family, there's no greater love to express yourself for this country and the flag."

Helms' name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with the others who are still missing from the Korean War.

A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for. He is also memorialized at the Ringgold City Hall MIA/POW monument.

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