For more than 20 years, 84-year-old Marine veteran Ralph Delaney of Williamstown, N.J. has been working on the case of Army Pvt. Walter Piper, who died as a wounded prisoner of war during the Korean conflict.
Delaney found a long-lost brother of Piper's to give a DNA sample before his death and now, 66 years after Pvt. Piper died in 1951, the military has positively identified his remains and shipped them home for burial.
"I was like shell-shocked. I just never envisioned getting that phone call," Delaney said.
Delaney was two years behind Piper at Glassboro High School. He was considered next of kin because all of Piper's immediate family is dead.
It wasn't until just the last couple weeks via social media several nieces were located, including Sherry Bumm of Magnolia. She'd only ever heard of her uncle Walter who died in Korea.
"I did not know he was a prisoner of war, did not know he'd never come home, did not know that he died as a prisoner of war," Bumm said.
The funeral was held with full military honors on Saturday at the Gloucester County Veterans Memorial Park in Williamstown.
Although they never knew him, a number of citizens and veteran groups participated in Private Piper's services, including the American Legion riders who provided a motorcycle escort.
"It's sad, but it's also a pretty, wonderful thing," Bumm said.
Private Walter Piper got his welcome home and the proper burial he never got more than six decades ago.
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