The remains of a soldier from Spokane who was missing in action during the Korean War have been identified and returned to his family for burial in Kent next week.
Julia Doyle had little hope she would ever learn what happened to her cousin who went missing while fighting during the Korean War.
Doyle, 86, of Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood, said she was profoundly surprised when she was notified by the Department of Defense a few weeks ago that the remains of Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard L. Harris had been found and identified.
“After a certain length of time you figure they wouldn’t find anything. I was surprised they did,” Doyle said. “It did give me closure.”
Defense officials found Harris’ remains in a mass burial site in Unsan county, North Korea, in 2005. Scientists used dental records, mitochondrial DNA, other forensic tools and circumstantial evidence to identify them, according to the Department of Defense.
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It’s unclear why it took seven years for Doyle to be contacted.
Harris will be buried at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent on Tuesday, Doyle said.
Harris was 17 when he joined the Army and 23 when he disappeared in Korea. As a teen in Spokane he had lived with his aunt after his mother died. Harris was a devout Catholic and was extremely close to his three male cousins and his female cousin, said Doyle.
Harris told his aunt that he wanted to join the Army, but he was underage and she wouldn’t sign his enlistment paperwork, Doyle said.
“So he went down to California” and enlisted on his own, Doyle said.
On Nov. 26, 1950, Harris and other members of the 2nd Infantry Division were attacked by Chinese forces in Kujang, North Korea, in what became known as the Battle of the Chongchon, according to the Department of Defense. Harris was reported missing in action four days later.
In 1953, after Operation Big Switch, in which captured troops were returned, American soldiers reported that Harris had been captured, according to the Department of Defense.
Soldiers reported that Harris died from malnutrition on Jan. 22, 1951, while a prisoner of war in a camp in North Korea.
His remains were not among those returned by Communist forces after the war.
In 2005, a military recovery team excavated the burial site, later submitting 69 samples of remains to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.