Normally when someone dies and they are finally laid to rest, it is a very sad occasion.
While some tears were certainly shed during Friday’s honorary service and Saturday’s graveside service for Army Cpl. Billie Joe Hash, the ceremonies also brought about other emotions for friends and family members because 70 years after his death halfway around the world, he was finally home.
“This is a relief to the family to know now that they get to bring him back home,” Rev. Bobby Joe Eaton said during Saturday’s service.
“When I was a young boy, I can remember many, many times we would go down to the train station because soldiers would be leaving Corbin, going off to the military. I am sure that he probably did the same thing when he was getting on that train 70 years before his remains would be brought back. We come today to honor his memory and most of all to thank him for his service. He was willing to literally give his life for the freedoms that we experience today.”
For his service during the Korean War, Hash earned the Purple Heart, Korean Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Hash, who served with the Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, was reported missing in action on Dec. 6, 1950, following an attack by Chinese Communist Forces on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir in the northeast part of North Korea. He was 18 years old.
After fighting off approximately 120,000 Chinese troops who had encircled the 30,000 United Nations troops for 17 days, those remaining were able to break out and fight their way to the port of Hungnam where they were evacuated by sea.
The fighting in Korea continued until the ceasefire was signed on July 27, 1953.
Hash remained missing in action and was presumed dead.
In 2018, North Korean officials turned over 55 boxes of remains following a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The boxes were returned to the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam, Hawaii on Aug. 1, 2018.
Officials announced the positive identification on May 27.
Hash’s remains were flown into the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport on Aug. 24, and were returned to Corbin on Aug 26 where city officials provided a police escort through town as many turned out to pay tribute Hash and his family on their way to the funeral home.
Army National Guard Cpt. Melissa Mattingly led Friday’s honorary service.
“I would like to say on behalf of all those, who have served or are serving, thank you Billie and his family for their sacrifice,” Mattingly said. “Billie and others like him acted as a watchdog, a big watchdog before and afterwards, all guarding a way of life by putting themselves in harm’s way, not only to protect their own front porch, but their neighbors far away.”
Hash’s niece, Peggy Bishop, noted that the names of everyone, who had touched her uncle’s casket to bring him home would not fit in Corbin.
“What an adventure. It took 70 years for him to come home,” Bishop said. “We’re all thrilled that Uncle Billie is home. He’s a relative and there’s a part of you that loved him because of the stories, but for our parents, this was a big deal. For all of us, it’s kind of like the very last thing we can do for our parents and granny and pa.”
She added that her grandmother frequently told stories about Billie and never gave up hope he would one day come home.
Several veterans motorcycle groups participated in Saturday’s ceremony, including; Second Brigade, Rolling Thunder, Patriot Guard, American Legion Riders, and Combat Vets.
The groups lined both sides of the entrance into Worley Cemetery, which greeted his family members as they entered the cemetery Saturday morning.
Military honors were provided by the Kentucky Army National Guard, who, among other things, folded the American flag draping Hash’s coffin, and presented it to one of Hash’s sisters, Janie Davis, near the close of Saturday’s service.
“He has been with the Lord for 70 years. He already knows about heaven now, and the love and freedoms that are there,” Eaton added. “In my opinion, anyone, who would risk his life for someone else is a hero. Cpl. Hash was a hero. Now he is at rest.”
“Now you the family – who have heard stories from your granny and others in your family about him – now you have a closure to all this to know that his remains are brought back here probably a half a mile from where he was raised up.”