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Memorial for a long-missing soldier: Have we fulfilled the promise he fought for?

The shuffle of feet on the marble floor and echoes of whispers were the only sounds to breach the silence in the North Carolina Capitol Rotunda on Friday.

At the center of the almost empty hall, William “Hoover” Jones lay in honor, shrouded in sunlight.

Jones, of Red Oak, North Carolina, was just 19 years old when he was reported missing in action in North Korea almost 70 years ago.

He is survived by his elderly sisters, who attended a service at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Thursday. Those paying respect Friday included veterans, government officials and passersby.

Jones lay in honor from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. after Gov. Roy Cooper laid a wreath during a memorial service Friday morning. The governor also ordered North Carolina and U.S. flags to fly at half-staff Friday in honor of Jones and others who fought for their country and never came home.

Sue Powers Hartman, of North Dakota, came upon the memorial after attending a convention. Her late husband, as well as her brothers and father, served in the military.

She teared up outside the rotunda, where American flags surrounded the Korean War Memorial and the black hearse was parked. She went inside and read the funeral guest book filled with messages.

“It’s so touching. Somebody had written, ‘Welcome home soldier,’ and I started crying even more,” she said. “It’s just wonderful.”

Jones, who would have been almost 90 years old, served in the 24th Infantry Regiment in the Korean War, a primarily African-American unit during segregation.

Larry Hall, secretary of the state Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, also African American, was there to see the body off Friday evening. Jones will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

“He joined to serve in 1950, and the promise he saw in America by giving his service for what he thought would be a better future for him and his family and his community,” Hall said in an interview.

“Of course we do have to ask the question now, have we lived up to the promise he saw when he volunteered and went to serve and died in a foreign land?” Hall said. “And that’s what we owe to him — to fulfill that promise he saw in us.”

The Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer group that honors fallen military heroes, first responders and honorably discharged veterans, were also present at the rotunda, asked by the family to escort Jones’ body to and from the capitol.

As on Friday, they attend fallen veterans’ funerals when few others do, member Randy Bright said.

“It’s all about respect. He was MIA. He’s waited 69 years to come home,” Bright said. “And now he’s home.”

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