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Riders and first responders escort family of long-missing Korean War POW to celebration of life ceremony

LANSING, Ill. (September 18, 2023) – On Saturday, 73 years after Army Sgt. Cresenciano “Chano” Garcia, Jr. became a POW during the Korean War, his family gathered in Lansing to be escorted by motorcyclists and first responders to a celebration of life ceremony in his honor.

Smiles, hugs, and occasional tears were exchanged because earlier this year, Sgt. Garcia’s remains were identified and returned — the final chapter of a family story long unfinished.

Over 80 people gathered at American Legion Post 697 in Lansing Saturday morning — a combination of Sgt. Garcia’s extended family, first responders, motorcyclists — including Lansing’s Legion Riders, and members of the public.

Keith Miller, a trustee of the Lansing Legion Riders, organized the escort, which ended at the United Steelworkers Union’s McBridge Hall in Gary, where a celebration of life ceremony took place to honor Sgt. Garcia.

When asked why it was important for the Legion Riders to be involved in the escort, Miller’s response was simple:

“They found one,” he said. “I guess that’s enough said, right?”

POW
Lansing Legion Riders Trustee Keith Miller gives instructions before leading the escort from Lansing to Gary. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

In the video below, watch the full escort, as well as Sgt. Garcia’s family, leave the American Legion post in Lansing:

Prisoner of War

In December of 1950, Sgt. Garcia was reported missing in action in South Korea. He later died during a death march as a POW. A few years later, unbeknownst to his family, his unidentified remains were placed in the “Punchbowl Cemetery” in Hawaii, which is formally known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

In 2006, Garcia’s niece Sandy Garnett-Strong donated a DNA sample while she was in Washington D.C.

“We thought he was still in Korea,” she said. “So we were hesitant in giving the DNA because our chances were slim to none, but this miracle happened, and here we are, 73 years later.”

POW
Sandy Garnett-Strong (left) donated DNA in 2006 that eventually led to the identification of her uncle’s remains. She’s pictured with her son Eric Strong. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Garnett-Strong said 90% of her uncle’s remains were recovered and returned to the United States.

Family presence

Sgt. Garcia — who will ultimately be buried in Laredo, Texas — had four older sisters, three of whom moved from Texas to the northwest Indiana area, where many of his extended family still live today.

At least 20 family members were escorted to Gary on Saturday.

“I’ve been teary-eyed all day,” said Norma Alamillo, who is another niece of Sgt. Garcia.

Cynthia Perez, a great-great-niece of Garcia, said, “We didn’t expect this. It fills my heart with a lot of love with such a big turnout.”

Cynthia Perez (left) and Norma Alamillo are relatives of Sgt. Garcia, and were moved by the support for their family. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

The celebration of life ceremony in Gary ran from noon – 6 p.m.

Present at the Lansing send-off were first responders from Gary, Lansing, Calumet City, as well as Lansing Trustee Maureen-Grady Perovich, Lynwood Trustee Sherry Dunlap, and many members of the public and the Lansing American Legion family.

The Lansing Legion Riders were one of a handful of riders groups part of the escort. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)
Paramedic Janessa Mays and Engineer William Wilkes of the Gary Fire Department were part of the escort. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)
Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.

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