|Updated: 5/10/2012 5:05 pm
||Published: 5/10/2012 4:56 pm
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - After waiting a lifetime, Josie Tibbitts on Thursday brought home the father she never knew.
Master Sgt. Elwood Green, was captured in 1950 in North Korea and died at age 33 on Feb. 18, 1951, in a prisoner of war camp. Some of his remains were recovered in 2005 by a team from the Army and North Korea.
The family was notified in February that the remains were positively identified through a DNA comparison with Green's brother, Jeffery. That ended a 61-year-old mystery of what became of Green at the prison camp known as Death Valley.
Green was born in Norman, where he went to high school, and had worked in the family's west Arkansas sawmill. During World War II, he fought in the North Africa and Italy campaigns. Former POWs returning from Korea in 1953 reported that Green died from malnutrition.
The news from Green's fellow soldiers gave the family an answer, and the return of his remains brought closure, relatives said.
An honor guard carried the flag-draped casket into a hangar at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, where Green's two surviving siblings (he was one of 12 children) gathered with Tibbitts and dozens of family members. Bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."
"My father is greatly honored," Tibbitts, who was a baby when her father died, told the group. She said her father missed so much: seeing her grow up, get married and have children.
"I love you, Daddy. Welcome home," she said.
After the ceremony, the honor guard placed the casket in a white hearse for the trip west to Black Springs, where he'll be laid to rest with the cremains of his wife, Gerta, whom he married during peacetime service in Germany.
Tibbitts was born in Colorado and lives outside Boulder. Relatives came from across the country for Thursday's ceremony and the ride west. Norman residents prepared to welcome Green home by lining the streets and wearing red and black, the colors from the now-closed high school that Green attended.
A funeral service is planned for Saturday, followed by interment at Mt. Gilead Cemetery. Gov. Mike Beebe ordered flags to be flown at half-staff on Saturday.
"We were told we would never, ever have any remains from my father back," Tibbitts said. "So this day is miraculous, it's sweet, it's bittersweet. Something my Aunt Joyce and Uncle Jeff have waited for for ages. It means I have a daddy now that I never had."
Tibbitts said the remains of her mother, who died 22 years ago, will be placed in her father's casket.
"Now ... I can give her what she needs and that's to put her inside the casket with him, and she'll be buried with him," she said.
Tibbitts got to know her father through stories told by her mother and other relatives.
"He was a very honorable man, very loyal, devoted to his country, he was a card, a tease, a practical joker. ... Grandpa owned a sawmill, all the boys worked in the sawmill. My daddy had sawdust in his blood and that explains why I love to work with wood and do carpentry, that explains why my son is such a big tease," she said.
Tibbitts said she has photos of her father on the walls of her Colorado home, one from when he enlisted at age 18 and a wedding portrait of her parents.
"I know of him, I know about him," she said. "Now I actually have something, I have him here."
Margaret McMillian, a niece of Green's, said her uncle's story plays a big role in the family. Ten of Green's 11 siblings lived to adulthood, and seven died without knowing what happened to their brother.
"It'll bring closure and peace," McMillan said.
The bagpipers played again as the hearse pulled out and the family members formed a caravan with motorcycle riders from the Patriot Guard for the last portion of Green's journey.
Green fought with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He and other soldiers were captured during a battle at Samso-ri on Nov. 28, 1950.
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