EASLEY -- Capt. William Kennedy Mauldin returned home Friday, 56 years after his fighter plane was shot down over North Korea.
"Let us be glad and rejoice, for one of our own was lost and now is found," Air Force Chaplain Steve Mays said.
For Mauldin's survivors, Friday's ceremony brought closure to what had been a heart-wrenching search.
"It's like something very heavy has been lifted off me," said Mauldin's widow, Margot Robinson of Easley. "We can come (here), and we know where he is."
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A native of Germany, Robinson met the Pickens native after World War II when he was stationed at Simmershausen, Germany. They married, moved to the United States and had two children.
A career airman, they were living in California when, in 1951, Mauldin was ordered to go to Korea, Robinson said. She and the children moved to South Carolina where they stayed with her husband's family.
A year after the crash on Feb. 21, 1952, Capt. Mauldin was declared missing and presumed dead. Still, there was some hope he was alive or maybe captured, Robinson said.
Robinson's daughter, Corrine Mauldin of Charleston, was just 2 when her father was shot down flying the reconnaissance mission over North Korea.
Her memories of him come from what friends and relatives told her.
While her stepfather had lovingly provided and cared for her, Corrine Mauldin said she still wanted to learn what had happened to her birth father.
By the time she got to college in the mid 1960s, Corrine Mauldin started writing the Air Force, hoping to find clues to what happened to the handsome Citadel cadet with wavy hair and an easy smile.
"There were just unanswered questions, and I don't think you ever let that go," she said.
The breakthrough came Feb. 11, when scientists identified Capt. Mauldin's remains among the contents of 208 boxes of human remains that were turned over by the North Korean government.
The identity was determined by using mitochondrial DNA. Scientists use mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the mother's bloodline, because it's plentiful and can last for years, according to the Defense Department.
"We're just grateful for science," Corrine Mauldin said.
The pilot's cousin, Ward Ayres of Surfside Beach, provided the blood sample yielding the genetic evidence scientists needed to make positive identification.
"I think it's cool," said Ayres, now 75 and a retired airman. "It's about time they found him."