Northern Michigan Soldier “Missing in Action” in North Korea Returns Home

"We’re very excited as a family to have him with us again."

A northern Michigan Army Sergeant, whose whereabouts were unknown for 69 years… is finally back at home.

In 1950, Army Sgt. Walter Tobin of Glen Lake was serving in North Korea when enemy forces attacked. Tobin was reported as Missing in Action.

But after North Korea returned remains of 55 service members, modern DNA testing helped identify Tobin. His remains came home on Tuesday.

First cousin Mary Jane Morehouse says, “It’s going to be sadness, but great joy just to think that he will be coming home.”

Walter Tobin grew up in Glen Lake, and attended the Empire school. But by the time he was 22, his surroundings became the war zone of North Korea.

Morehouse was just five years old when she says, “My mother got a phone call, which was an unusual, a long-distance phone call. And it was my aunt. She had called my mother and said her son was missing.”

Now, 69 years later, the family is finally getting closure. Two family members donated DNA to help make sure it was a match. On Tuesday, with the family gathered at Cherry Capital Airport – and a plane bearing the American flag – Tobin’s remains are back where they belong.

“My reaction was happiness. Just the fact he was going to be coming home. That’s what my aunt wanted, that’s what our family wanted was for him to be back home,” Morehouse says. “There’s (also) the emotion of sadness to think his parents, and my parents won’t know he’s been returned. And also his brother who also passed away.”

Born one day apart in 1928, first cousin Ray Purvis says Tobin was affectionately known as “Babe.” “Anybody that knew Babe Tobin was proud. Glad, thankful that they knew him. He was such a funny, likable, hard-working – and when it came to fishing, we always had a lot of smelt. And trout.”

But Purvis wasn’t sure this day would ever happen. “I didn’t think I’d live this long myself.  But the Lord has his way.”

The family tells us they are excited that Walter is finally back at home. He’ll be laid to rest at the family cemetery in Leelanau County. One family member says she looks forward to the day when she can actually meet “Babe” in heaven.

There is a public memorial on Thursday morning at 11 am, at Life Story Funeral Home on Hammond Road just south of  Traverse City.