SAVANNAH, Ga. — Soldiers of the 9th Infantry Regiment made a desperate retreat as North Korean troops surrounded them. An 18-year-old Army soldier wounded. Luther Herschel Story feared that his injuries would slow down his company, so he stayed behind to cover his retirement.

Story’s actions in the Korean War on September 1, 1950 would ensure that he was remembered. He received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor, which now hangs alongside his portrait at the National Infantry Museum, an hour’s drive from his hometown of Americus, Georgia.

But Story was never seen alive again, and her resting place remained a mystery for a long time.

“In my family, we always thought they would never find him,” said Judy Wade, Story’s niece and closest surviving relative.

That changed in April when the US military revealed that laboratory tests had matched the DNA of Wade and his late mother to the bones of an unidentified US soldier recovered from Korea in October 1950. The remains belonged to Story, a case officer told Wade by phone. After almost 73 years, he was coming home.

A Memorial Day burial with military honors is scheduled Monday at Andersonville National Cemetery. A police escort with flashing lights escorted Story’s casket through the streets of nearby Americus Wednesday after he arrived in Georgia.

The late Army Cpl. History of Luther Herschel.US Army / via AP

“I don’t have to worry about him anymore,” said Wade, who was born four years after his uncle went missing abroad. «I’m glad he’s home.»

Among those celebrating Story’s return was former President Jimmy Carter. When Story was a boy, according to Wade, his family lived and worked in the Plains on land owned by Carter’s father, James Earl Carter Sr.

Jimmy Carter, 98, has been in hospice care at his Plains home since February. Jill Stuckey, superintendent of Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, said she shared the news about Story with Carter as soon as she heard it.

“Oh, there was a big smile on his face,” Stuckey said. «I was very excited to find out that a hero was coming home.»

Story grew up about 150 miles south of Atlanta in Sumter County, where her father was a sharecropper. As a boy, Story, who had a keen sense of humor and liked baseball, joined his parents and older brothers in the fields to help pick cotton. The work was hard and did not pay much.

“Mom talked about eating sweet potatoes three times a day,” said Wade, whose mother, Gwendolyn Story Chambliss, was Luther Story’s older sister. “She used to talk about her fingers bleeding at night from taking cotton out of her bolls. Everyone in the family had to do it for them to exist.”

The family eventually moved to Americus, the largest city in the county, where Story’s parents found better work. She enrolled in high school, but soon set her sights on joining the army in the years after World War II.

In 1948, his mother agreed to sign the papers allowing Story to enlist in the army. She said her date of birth was July 20, 1931. But Wade said he later obtained a copy of her uncle’s birth certificate that showed he was born in 1932, meaning she only had 16 years old when he joined.

Story dropped out of school during her sophomore year. In the summer of 1950, he was deployed with Company A of the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment in Korea when the war began.

On September 1, 1950, near the village of Agok on the Naktong River, Story’s unit was attacked by three divisions of North Korean troops who moved to encircle the Americans and cut off their escape.

Story picked up a machine gun and fired on enemy soldiers crossing the river, killing or wounding about 100, according to his Medal of Honor citation. When his company commander ordered a withdrawal, Story ran onto a highway and hurled grenades at an oncoming truck carrying North Korean troops and ammunition. Despite being injured, he kept fighting.

“Realizing that his injuries would hinder his comrades, he refused to retire to the next position, but stayed on to cover the company’s retirement,” Story’s award citation read. «When we last saw him, he was firing all available weapons and fighting off another hostile assault.»

Story was presumed dead. She would have been 18, according to the birth certificate Wade obtained.

In 1951, her father received Story’s Medal of Honor at a Pentagon ceremony. Story was also posthumously promoted to corporal.

About a month after Story went missing in Korea, the US military recovered a body in the area where he was last seen fighting. The unidentified remains were interred with other unknown service members at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.

According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 7,500 Americans who served in the Korean War are still missing or their remains have not been identified. That’s about 20% of the nearly 37,000 US service members who died in the war.

The remains of the unknown soldier recovered near Agok were unearthed in 2021 as part of a larger military effort to determine the identities of several hundred Americans who died in the war. Finally, the scientists compared the DNA in the bones to samples sent by Wade and his mother before he died in 2017. They made a successful match.

President Joe Biden announced the breakthrough on April 26 in Washington, joined by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

“Today, we can return him to his family,” Biden said of Story, “and to his rest.”