“I don’t want to set the world on fire. I just want to start a flame in your heart.”
The poetic words of a vibrant 8-year-old boy with a “heart full of love,” as his sisters adoringly describe him so many years later. Elizabeth is 95 and Ida will turn 92 next month. They haven’t seen their brother in more than 68 years.
Pfc. William “Hoover” Jones was well-liked by his entire community of Red Oak, North Carolina, Ida said. He graduated high school in the spring of 1950 and was eager to join the U.S. Army to further his education.
“Well, I hated to see him leave, but they had said it would be helpful,” Ida said. “He could travel and get a free education, which meant a lot to him. So he went, and he never came back.”
The loss happened just months after Jones had quickly said his goodbyes and left for war. It was Nov. 26, 1950, and his unit engaged Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) near Pakchon, North Korea. Overwhelmed by the CCF’s size, the unit withdrew from the area. Jones went missing during the movement.
“We hadn’t heard from Hoover in about three months, and Momma undoubtedly felt something,” Elizabeth said. “When the news came, she just had to lay down. She had lain on the bed and sent for me. It was a sad day.”
With so many unanswered questions, the years passed by for the grieving Jones family.
“We just waited and waited…and nothing,” Ida said. “I do remember seeing in the paper that he was ‘war dead’ several years later.”
Despite Jones’ broken-hearted mother waiting by the window, staring into space and waiting for good news to come, it never did. She passed away at 91-years-old without knowing what had happened to her loving son.
The decades passed and the family moved on, but never lost hope, the sisters said. They kept a strong faith no matter how hard the times got. Through deaths, natural disasters, and mostly the emptiness they felt from the loss of their beloved brother, they never let that flame of hope in their hearts go out.
On July 28, 2018, news of 55 boxes of remains being returned to the United States from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea) piqued the Jones’ interests.
“It’s hard to explain really,” Ida said. “I was happy. Sad. Bittersweet.”
Just 44 days after the boxes reached U.S. soil, analysts from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) identified Pfc. Jones. Elizabeth and Ida finally got answers to questions they had been asking for 68 years.
“They had found Hoover. He had been identified, it was him,” Ida said with a tired smile. “I felt shocked, surprised and all of the above. Unbelievable really.”
“I was happy to know that after all these years, somebody somewhere was concerned enough to call us,” Elizabeth said. “They have waited all these years and then came to us to bring some relief.”
Nearly 7,700 U.S. service members from the Korean War remain unaccounted for, and more than 5,000 believed to be in the DPRK. The DPAA team remains vigilant in their mission to provide the fullest possible accounting of our missing service members to their families and the nation.
“I just hope you all will continue to do this kind of work and follow up on so many of the lost ones,” Elizabeth said. “It means a lot to us, and I know it will mean the same to them. It’s a wonderful job you all are doing following up after all these years. We thought we would never hear anything else, so thank you so very much.”
Elizabeth and Ida now plan to celebrate the life of their brother. He will be laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, an event the entire extended family hopes to attend, the sisters said.
Meanwhile, they share memories of Hoover to honor him: memories of him riding horses on the farm, those of him always putting his arm around whoever he was speaking with, or the memory of the love letter he wrote at 8-years-old. The flame he set in his loved one’s hearts then still burns today and will continue to burn as Hoover’s memory is shared and cherished.