The picture was striking. A casket was covered in a United States flag. It was being carried by a team of fit and polished Maryland state troopers, whose Stetsons were worn in a way that showed they were proud to have earned the right to wear them.
The picture was one of several accompanying media reports about the return of the remains of Sergeant Roy DeLauter, of Washington County. Sergeant DeLauter joined the United States Army in 1948. When the Korean War began, he was deployed and, on December 1, 1950, was reported missing in action during heavy fighting. Following a prisoner of war exchange, it was learned he had been killed in action.
Sergeant DeLauter’s daughters were just toddlers when he went missing. In a newspaper story, one of his daughters said she grew up watching old war movies, hoping to ‘catch a glimpse of her father.’ She described what it felt like to hear other kids talk about what they planned to do on Father’s Day each year.
In 2018, North Korea returned the unidentified remains of U.S. service members. Four years later, identified remains of Sergeant DeLauter were being returned to his family to be laid to rest.
Members of the Maryland State Police participated in a dignified escort, as our troopers have for many deceased returning service members. Their presence was so appreciated by the elderly Korean War veterans in attendance at the arrival, that they were asked to assist as pallbearers.
I am extremely proud of the actions of the troopers who assisted Sergeant DeLauter and his fellow veterans in this way. I am proud of the way our troopers and civilian support personnel respond to assist with arranging and conducting all the dignified escorts through our state.
We can never repay the debt we owe the men and women who have worn the uniforms of our Armed Forces and have given their lives in defense of our nation. Our freedoms and the life we enjoy as Americans did not just happen. We live free and enjoy more rights and privileges than those in any nation on earth because since the Revolutionary War, individuals willing to leave their families, homes and their hopes for a secure future have answered the call to duty and stepped forward in military service for our country.
These courageous individuals have eaten the dirt and sand and spilled their blood on battlefields around the world on behalf of their beloved country whose flag they proudly carried into battle, whether on a staff or sewn on their sleeve. Their service and their sacrifice are what guaranteed our freedoms. Their bravery is what enables the citizens of our nation to sleep peacefully with their families each night.
Two weeks ago at our Fallen Heroes Ceremony, we remembered the sacrifice of Trooper Samuel Wilderson and Trooper Sherwood Williams. Both were members of the Maryland State Police when they were drafted into service during World War II. Before shipping out, Trooper Williams married his sweetheart on the steps of Maryland State Police Headquarters. He would never return to her embrace. Both Trooper Williams and Trooper Wilderson were killed in action.
As I said in my previous message marking Military Appreciation Month, we have a proud history of sworn and civilian members of our Department who have served and continue to serve in our military. Since September 11, 2001, at least one member of our Department has been deployed in the Global War on Terror. Others have been assigned to duty stations throughout the world. I thank each of you for your patriotic service and your ongoing commitment to our nation.
Memorial Day originated soon after the end of the Civil War as a day to remember the sacrifice of those who died fighting to preserve our nation and to signify gratitude by placing flowers on their graves. As our nation’s wars continued and thousands more lives were lost, Memorial Day was established to remember all those who have given their lives in service to our country.
When you hang the American flag outside your home this weekend, I hope you will pause and reflect. Think about the incredible country we live in. Be grateful for those who gave their lives throughout our nation’s history while wearing a military uniform and fighting to defend all that we hold dear. Think about the families they left behind who still proudly display the faded photograph of their loved one in uniform. Think about the family who only recently received their loved one’s remains from a foreign battlefield where he fell more than 70 years ago.
There are many reasons the United States of America is a great nation. One of the most important is that we have a military filled with men and women who love freedom and are willing to die in its defense. We can never thank them enough, but we can always be grateful.
Be safe. Be thankful.
Colonel Woodrow W. Jones III
Maryland Department of State Police