Cozad honors hometown hero killed in Korean War

COZAD, NE — Nearly 70 years ago, Cozad native Captain Robert Laier went missing in Korea after his F-86 fighter was shot down during the Korean War. 

Now, his hometown is honoring him with a monument right in the heart of the town. 

“Whereas the city of Cozad wants this area to honor not only Robert Laier and his ultimate sacrifice, but all the veterans that have served the United States of America, now therefore, I Marcus Kloepping do hereby recognize May 4th as Robert Laier Day in the c ity of Cozad.” Cozad mayor Marcus Kloepping said. 

Robert Laier’s plane went down after an encounter with A Soviet MiG on June 19th of 1951. He was originally declared missing in action, His body was never found and in 1954, he was declared dead. 

“There are people here today who knew Bobby Laier.” Robert’s son Richard Laier said. “They know his voice,  They know his laugh, his sense of humor and I am not one of them.”

Robert’s son Richard Laier was born just days after Robert went missing over Korea. He flew to Nebraska from his home in Miami and spoke at Tuesday’s ceremony to honor the father he never met. 

“I would hear many stories of Bobby Laier from those who are his classmates, friends and family members,” Richard said. “How do you relate to someone you never knew, but is always referred to as your dad.”

It’s not the first time Richard has traveled to Cozad. Every summer as a child he would come to spend time with his grandparents. It’s how he learned about his father. He asked the crowd to honor his dad by rejecting what he says Robert died fighting against.

“We are all different. Different politics, different religions, beliefs and different immigrant ancestry,” Richard said. “Yet here we are, peacefully gathering for a single purpose — to honor an American who fought against intolerance.”

Richard spent much of his life trying to learn about the man he says gave him life. He said he worked with the Korean MIA Family Organization, traveled to Washington D.C. and has gone through old records, including lists of names of men who were once POWs trying to find out what happened. His grandmother even submitted DNA in case Robert’s remains are ever found.

After much searching, one day a package arrived at Richard’s house. Inside were papers that detailed the Russian’s reports about what happened during the dogfight on June 19, 1951. 

The report listed Soviet Senior Lieutenant Nikolai Sutyagin as the man who shot down Robert. Richard said his father was listed as Sutyagin’s first victory of the war. The Russian pilot ended the Korean War with 22 victories — the country’s top scoring ace. 

“This was the man who had killed my father…,” Richard. “My closure has been the belief that he was dead before he hit the ground.”

Now everyone who passes through Cozad can learn the story of Robert Laier. 

Prior to the memorial unveiling, Robert’s mother placed a small stone in his honor across the street from the Cozad Veterans Memorial Park. Many years later, Country Estates CEO Rex German thought more should be done and began working on the idea of a new memorial for Robert. 

Steve Wolff, himself a pilot, designed and created the new monument.