It’s been 75 years, and a journey of some 11,000 miles, for Army Pfc. Donald E. Mangan to join his older brother at Haven of Rest Funeral Home & Memorial Park in Gig Harbor.
For all those years he was simply known as “X-70,” one of 16 million Americans who served in World War II, one of more than 400,000 who died in that war, and among the 72,000 soldiers unaccounted for at war’s end.
Mangan was 26 when he was killed under heavy assault by the Nazis on Sept. 17, 1944, on a spot in western Germany simply known as “Hill 298.3.” He was buried near there in a grave containing 13 American servicemen, dug either by German servicemen or civilians.
The meticulous details identifying Mangan come from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, a little-known federal agency which is tasked with bringing every missing service member home.
Its laboratory at Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam in Hawaii is the largest skeletal ID facility in the world, staffed with more than 30 anthropologists, archaeologists and forensic specialists.
After identifying Mangan’s remains, the agency contacted his nephew, Jim Mangan, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who is 79. He is the next-oldest living relative willing to decide on burial details after a 100-year-old relative declined.
“It all came out of the blue. It was a total surprise,” he said Friday.
Mangan, a 21-year Marine Corps vet, considers it an honor. The agency provided him with a detailed, 11-page report on the circumstances under which his uncle died in battle.
“It just draws you closer,” says Mangan. “It brings home the losses that families suffered in World War II.”
There were four brothers in the Mangan family when the war broke out. They were from the small-town area of Elkton, South Dakota. Three joined the Navy — now all deceased — and Donald Mangan went into the Army.
In September 1944, Mangan was with Company C, 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, advancing for an attack on the town of Wettlingen. American artillery pounded the town. German mortars and artillery responded.
German troops counterattacked at Hill 298.3. Part of Company C “was over-run and 8 men escaped,” said the battalion historical summary.
“Wildly successful during its first few days, the advance had overextended itself. German units began to strike along the exposed flanks of the American line …,” says the accounting agency report. The battalion fell back farther, losing eight officers and 230 enlisted men wounded, killed or missing in action.
Mangan was among the numerous casualties, their remains not moved as the American troops withdrew.
After the war ended, across northern Europe the remains of missing American soldiers were collected. They were labeled with an “X” and referred to as the “X-files.”
Mangan became X-70. Details about his remains included a field jacket, shirt and trousers, all olive drab, as well as other clothing that all were “badly deteriorated.” The jacket, however, did have a 28th Infantry Division patch on the left sleeve. From the jaw bones, a tooth chart was made.
But none of that was deemed sufficient enough to establish identity, and in 1948, X-70 was interred at the Luxembourg Military Cemetery.
In 2017, however, there was a new “multidisciplinary analysis” done of five soldiers who could be X-70. “Biological data” and tooth charts excluded three of the soldiers, says the report.
Then, based of where X-70 was originally found, and where the combat took place, the report concludes that Mangan is “historically likely” to be X-70.
According to Haven of Rest Funeral Home & Memorial Park, Mangan’s remains were to arrive Friday evening at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and receive a military escort to Gig Harbor. The nephew chose Gig Harbor because his brother, James Mangan, upon retirement had moved to the area and is buried at the same cemetery. The two brothers were close, says the nephew.
Military services will take place at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the funeral home’s memorial park, 8503 Highway 16 N.W. The service is open to the public.
The 11,000-mile journey from South Dakota to Wettlingen to Gig Harbor will have been completed.