World War II soldier’s medals presented to family in Montana
KALISPELL, Mont. (Tribune News Service) — John T. Mulder had just graduated from Oregon State College when he joined the U.S. Army in 1942. A basketball player from the small town of Raymond, Wash., he became a second lieutenant in the 405th Infantry Regiment as well as a platoon commander for his company's mortar section. Then he went to Germany.
Mulder, who went by Jack, went missing behind enemy lines during an offensive near the German city of Beeck on Nov. 24, 1944 — five days after his son Mark was born in Portland, Ore.
Now 76 and living in Kalispell, Mark Mulder has spent decades learning about his father, who was declared dead a year after his disappearance. He knows his father died in that battle, at the young age of 24. But as with tens of thousands of American soldiers who fought in World War II, no one is certain where Jack Mulder's remains are buried.
On Tuesday, Mark Mulder closed one chapter in what he calls a "quest" to record his father's legacy.
During a small, long-belated ceremony at Kalispell's Army National Guard recruiting center, Gov. Greg Gianforte presented the Mulder family with eight of Jack's buttons, badges and war medals, including a Bronze Star for heroism and a Purple Heart for his ultimate sacrifice. The family also received a Gold Star medallion from the state of Montana for losing a relative at war.
Gianforte said Mulder "beat back Nazis intent on spreading evil across the world."
The Columbian newspaper recounted one instance of Mulder's gallantry in 2011, when his name was added to the Clark County Veterans War Memorial in Vancouver, Wash.
"When U.S. troops were pinned down by a machine gun, Lt. Mulder tried to order mortar fire on the German position. But American tanks had rolled over the telephone wire, cutting Mulder's link with his mortar squad," the paper reported. "So Mulder ran about 100 yards back to the tanks, and had one of the gun crews blow up the German machine gun."
A fellow soldier later wrote to Mulder's widow, Sybil: "One thing you can always know, and of which your son can be proud, is that there was never a better soldier nor a finer officer than Jack Mulder."
Mark Mulder, a Marine Corps veteran whose eyes briefly welled with tears during Tuesday's ceremony, has traveled across Europe, visited U.S. military installations and pored over old photos, letters, diary entries and official records in an effort to learn his father's story and locate his remains.
"It's a quest," he said. "It's something that I really enjoy doing."
But Mulder said he hadn't really wondered about his father's medals until about two and a half years ago, when he was on the phone with an official from the Army's Past Conflicts Repatriation Branch at Fort Knox.
"She said, 'Do you have your father's medals?' and I said, 'No, but I'd love to have those,'" Mulder recalled.
He said former Gov. Steve Bullock was going to present the medals before the COVID-19 pandemic upended those plans. He wasn't sure precisely why the medals weren't delivered to his family long ago.
"War is a mess," he observed.
Meanwhile, Mulder continues to work with the Army's repatriation branch and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in hopes of finding his father's remains.
He's counting on details such as his father's height — Mark is 6-foot-4, just like Jack was — as well as dental records and diary entries from other soldiers in his father's unit. He said he's found one entry suggesting his father was laid in a trench near the battleground that claimed his life.
If Jack Mulder is ever found, Mark intends to give him a proper burial at the American Cemetery and Memorial at Margraten in the Netherlands.
It's a place Mark has visited many times, one where his father would be honored year after year by the Dutch. And he said it's where several of his father's fellow soldiers are buried, including his commanding officer and a lieutenant with whom he shared a tent on France's Cherbourg Peninsula.
"I just feel that he belongs with the people he served with," he said.
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