Man finds closure after his father's remains are recovered in Korea
By DEANA TRAUTZ CONTRIBUTING WRITER | Austin American-Statesman | Published: October 28, 2019
AUSTIN, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Sam Storms was driving his brush to the dump on a Friday morning in July when he got the call. It was a man from Fort Knox.
"I've got some good news for you," the man said on the other line. "We found your Daddy."
These were long-awaited words that Sam Storms never expected to hear since his father, Maj. Harvey Storms, was presumed killed in action at North Korea's Chosin Reservoir 66 years ago.
"I said 'You have got to be kidding,' and I just started bawling and had to pull off the road," Sam Storms said. "I can't express how I felt. I kept hoping but never figured I'd ever see him."
The news brought a sense of closure for the 78-year-old Pflugerville resident and his family. His father's remains were identified among 55 boxes turned over by North Korea following an agreement by Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at their 2018 Singapore summit. After a near lifetime of waiting, his father would finally be properly laid to rest.
'God is going to take care of us'
The eldest of four brothers, Sam Storms was just 9 years old when his father was declared MIA on Dec. 1, 1950.
He was washing dishes and his mother was preparing lunch when they heard a knock at the door. He remembers trailing behind his mother, who was pregnant with his youngest brother, as she opened the door to two men in uniform from the war department. They handed over a telegram and apologized.
"She thanked them for coming by and we went back into the kitchen," he said. "Then she went over to the refrigerator, opened the door and just stood there. She said, 'Sammy, I don't know what we are going to do, but God is going to take care of us.' And he did and he has."
Sam Storms' parents frequently sent letters to each other while overseas, but letters that she sent to him began coming back, labeled "MIA" and "return to sender."
He said even after seeing these and reading Maj. Storms' name under the KIA section of the newspaper in December 1953, his mother still had hope he was alive.
Sam Storms and his three brothers spent most of their childhood on a 20-acre tract in La Feria, Texas, where they had grapefruit and orange orchards. Their grandparents, who owned a large patch of cotton and grains, lived next door.
Before Maj. Storms enlisted in the Korean War in 1950, he was assigned to work in Japan, bringing the family to move there for a year and a half.
The last time Sam Storms saw his father was on a train platform in Japan as he left for war and they left to return to the U.S. Since his father's train was farther down the platform, Storms' mother and two little brothers walked with their father to say goodbye. Sam Storms stayed behind, sitting on the family's luggage and waiting for their train to arrive.
"I didn't say goodbye, I just knew he was going a different direction," he said. "I watched him and when he got down there maybe 30 or 40 feet, he turned around and looked at me –– didn't say anything, didn't wave, just turned around and turned back."
His younger brothers hardly knew their father because they were too little during the limited time he was at home. Sam Storms said he only got to spend a couple years with his father, since he served in World War II until he was about 4 years old.
"When you grow up without a father, there are things that you miss, but we don't know what that is because we never had it," he said. "Any memories that we have of (him) came from my Daddy through my mother. She was his mouthpiece."
In an effort to fill his father's role after he died, Sam Storms' mother once took him into town to a haberdashery to learn how to tie a tie, and then to a barbershop to learn shoe shining. Despite losing their father, he describes their childhood as idyllic.
"We're special, you can't convince me otherwise, and God took special care of us four boys," Sam Storms said. "We were blessed with good health and a wonderful mother that carried on the traditions of the family."
Sam Storms' outlook on his childhood remains this way despite his mother dying about 10 years after his father on July 31, 1961, after a fight with bone marrow cancer.
Today, Sam Storms and his family continue to learn more about their parents through the letters the two sent to each other. Many of them are from his father and written on thin onion skin paper.
"Reading his letters, he always had something to say about the boys, asking how we were," Storms said. "He showed he was proud of us, proud to be a father and proud to have sons."
'I have fought a good fight'
Soldiers who served under Maj. Storms have come forward with stories of what they believe were his final moments. These stories not only helped the Storms family get to know their father, but also provided a better understanding of how he died and that he was not a prisoner of war.
One of the more revealing stories comes from Sgt. Bill Rowland, a U.S. soldier in the 31st Regiment. While Rowland never met Harvey Storms, they were near each other during the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.
As temperatures plummeted to -20 or -30 degrees, Rowland described how soldiers made their way to a small village across a valley to avoid aggressive machine gun fire. But with the bridge destroyed and the valley and roadway surrounded with gunfire, he said the only way to the village was over a steep, icy hill. He recalled Maj. Storms saying, "Let's take the hill," and so they did.
As they climbed, Rowland said Maj. Storms was shot 10-12 times in his right arm and chest. Rather than seeking aid, he said, "I have fought a good fight; you kids go over the hill and knock out the roadblock. I'll go back down and get the rest of them."
Sam Storms also recalled a story from his mother about when she visited a family that Maj. Storms grew close to in Genoa, Italy, back when he fought under General George Patton in the invasion of Sicily. After sending letters back and forth to the family, his mother and her college roommate went to Genoa and were greeted by hoards of people lining the streets for them.
Storms said they came out to show their gratitude to Maj. Storms' family for his role in the liberation army.
"I think he was very brave and a good leader," Sam Storms said. "He was someone to be very proud of."
A final resting place
Within the 55 boxes sent from North Korea were the remains of at least 100 U.S., Chinese and South Korean soldiers. The boxes also contained war relics such as dog tags, canteens and helmets.
Sam Storms said his father was the eighth soldier to be identified, and his remains include a left humerus and right femur. Pieces of these bones were removed for DNA testing, which showed that Maj. Storms had four sons and a niece.
"Those are just bones, it's not him," Sam Storms said tearfully. "He's along with my mother, waiting on us at the gates of heaven. We'll see him again someday, face to face."
Maj. Storms was awarded a Silver Star, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the Republic of Korea War Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and, most recently, the Ambassador for Peace Medal.
The Pentagon believes that nearly 7,700 U.S. soldiers from the Korean War are still unaccounted for, including 5,300 of whom they think were killed in North Korea.
Sam Storms said he is grateful for the country's persistence, and that this news has given him closure that his father is now in a better place.
"It made me proud of our nation that we didn't give up," he said. "He's not going to have to spend another night on the cold ground this winter."
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