VIDEO: WDEL's Tom Lehman reports. (Footage courtesy of NBC 10. Photos courtesy of Alaska Dispatch News and Brian Gorman)The remains of a soldier from Delaware who died after a plane crash in Alaska 62 years ago returned home with full military honors on Thursday.
WDEL's Tom Lehman reports.
Col. Eugene Smith, who once helped track down millions of dollars worth of stolen jewels after World War II, was killed along with 51 others when their plane crashed in Alaska more than six decades ago.
The plane crashed on a glacier and remained undiscovered until June 2012. It had shifted 14 miles from the original crash site.
The Air Force identified a bone fragment as belonging to Smith in May. The remains arrived in Wilmington under full honors on Thursday.
"When I saw that casket come off that plane, I just fell apart. I thought 'after all this time, he's coming home," Sue Beckman, Smith's niece, told NBC 10.
Smith's last-remaining brother died a couple of years ago, meaning none of his immediate family was still alive to see his remains return.
Beckman was six years old when her "Uncle Gene" died.
"It's not the way we wanted him home, but he's home and we can put him to rest," she said.
Brian Gorman, Smith's nephew, said he never met his uncle but heard in stories from family members that he was known for investigating crimes and solving mysteries.
The colonel was the lead investigator on the Hesse jewel heist in 1946, which led to the court martialing of three U.S. officers responsible for the $2.5 million theft.
"He's an uncle I never met, but we never missed him," Gorman said. "His stories at every family dinner, his tales of what he accomplished were always present in our life," he said.
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