Chicago-raised Korean War soldier's remains identified
It won't be the reunion the twin sister of a South Side soldier spent decades hoping for, but her brother is finally coming home.
Army Cpl. Donald MacLean was 17 when he went missing in action in Korea on Dec. 2, 1950. His remains, recently identified, will be buried with full military honors Saturday in northwest suburban Cary.
Donna Mitchell, MacLean's twin, was at her sister's Chicago house almost 63 years ago when a telegram came with the scary yet vague news. The hope, of course, was that he was merely missing.
"Maybe he was in a camp somewhere," said Mitchell, now 80 and living in McHenry. "We didn't know. We had no other information."
And so it was for decades. Troops came home, the Korean Peninsula remained split, soldiers' bodies were returned, but MacLean's whereabouts remained unknown.
"You just kept wishing," Mitchell said. "But after the years go by and everything, you think, 'Well, geez, what has happened?'"
Mitchell's miracle never came, but she now knows what happened to the brother with whom she spent her childhood playing baseball and basketball.
"It might not have been the answer I wanted," she said Tuesday, "but at the same time it let you know, hey, this is how it is."
MacLean was with a combat team on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir in what today is North Korea when Chinese forces attacked his unit, according to a Pentagon account. When the American troops tried to move out, MacLean was reported missing.
His body was returned to the U.S. in 1954 as United Nations and communist forces exchanged the remains of war dead, according to the Department of Defense. The body, which couldn't be identified, had apparently been buried on the eastern banks of the reservoir where MacLean's unit was fighting.
Attempts at identification failed, and he was buried at a national cemetery in Hawaii until technological advances made identification possible. Dental and radiograph comparisons, along with circumstantial evidence, led military officials to identify the remains as those of the young corporal who split much of his childhood between the Back of the Yards neighborhood and Ohio.
Mitchell said her brother wanted to finish high school, go to college and raise a family. He was a good kid who never smoked or even drove a car, she said.
And though her brother wasn't able to come back and meet all his nephews and nieces, he'll soon be resting in the family burial plot.
"Come Saturday, that'll be the closure," Mitchell said. "He'll be next to me at the cemetery."