Remains of soldier killed in the Korean War return home
By RICK DANDES | The Daily Item, Sunbury, Pa. | Published: October 31, 2017
MIDDLEBURG, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — The remains of a Snyder County soldier, declared dead and missing 66 years ago in the Korean War, were returned to his family Monday afternoon.
Army Pfc. Walter Hackenberg of Middleburg thus came home to his five still-living sisters, and will be laid to rest this Thursday at the Zion United Methodist Cemetery, said his sister Stella Knepp.
His remains were flown into Harrisburg from Hawaii on Monday, and a volunteer honor guard of motorcyclists accompanied the hearse on the drive back to Middleburg.
“We wish he were here, alive, so we could talk to him,” Knepp said Monday. “But at least the five of us now we know where he is and can put flowers on his grave.” Hackenberg had eight sisters in his family; when he left for Korea, Knepp was 12 years old.
Hackenberg was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, along a defensive line west of Chorw’on, South Korea, when his unit was attacked by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Force and Korean People’s Army, according to the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Hackenberg was captured and died in a prison camp in 1951.
On Sept. 7, 1954, a set of remains reportedly recovered from a prisoner-of-war cemetery at Camp 1 and 3, in North Korea, were designated “X-14266” and were transferred to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu and interred as a Korean War Unknown.
That unknown turned out to be Hackenberg. But it took years and new developed DNA and tissue analysis to identify the soldier known only as X-14266.
“In 2000 my sisters and I were asked give our DNA to researchers in Hawaii,” Knepp said. “They thought they had the remains of soldiers who died in the prison camp where Walter was sent.”
Scientists used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis to identify Hackenberg’s remains.
“This September, 17 years after giving that DNA, we were given the good news,” Knepp said.
“Good news, great news for the family,” said Terry Dolan, of the Reliance Hose Company, of Middleburg, Monday afternoon.
“We came out today just to help bring closure to the family and to honor Walter Hackenberg. He died in a prisoner of war camp and I am a veteran. Luckily, I came down in one piece. So we’re here to honor him and bring closure to the family.”
“I can’t imagine what it means to the family to finally know that his remains are back home here,” Dolan said.
When the hearse passed by the firehouse, Dolan said, “it was a moment hard to put in words. It was awesome. It was great to see the people from town come out to be part of this.”
“We were asked by Middleburg’s fire chief to fly the flag with our ladder truck, as the hearse drove by,”added Fire Department Dep. Chief Ralph Zimmerman. “It’s pretty rewarding...when we saw it pass us it was awesome. Brought out the ladder truck with the flag up. When you think about it, what he sacrificed so we can have freedom in this country. It’s pretty touching.”
Watching it all was Shirley Ferguson, of Middleburg. “My son called me and said he was going with the motorcycle group to escort the remains of Walter Hackenberg back home. My son is an Air Force veteran. I think it’s wonderful to see a hometown guy come home, so their family has peace.”
“The whole town has been so wonderful to us,” Knepp said. “The motorcyclists were great. Some told me that their father, or their grandfather, fought in the Korean War. And I appreciate what they’ve done for us, because they didn’t even know Walter. But they did know what he did for our country.”
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