Korean War vet getting military burial 63 years later

Published: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013 5:14 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Aug. 26, 2013 3:48 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com)
Donna Mitchell of McHenry poses for a portrait with a picture of her twin brother, Cpl. Donald MacLean, at her home Thursday. Mitchell was relentless with the U.S military to identify the remains of her brother who had been missing in action since the Korean War. MacLean's remains were identified earlier this year after being buried in Hawaii with others that were turned over to the U.S. by China.

McHENRY – Donna Mitchell finally can stop looking.

Her twin brother, Donald Victor MacLean, was declared missing in action in December 1950, just more than two months before their 18th birthday, during the Korean War.

Sixty-three years later, MacLean’s remains have been identified and will be flown to O’Hare International Airport and reburied with full military honors in Windridge Memorial Park Cemetery in Cary.

“This put it to a closure because we didn’t know,” said Mitchell, who has spent the past 40 years living in the McHenry area. “Maybe he had amnesia. You don’t know. This will put it to a closure now. I was glad that at least we know something.”

Mitchell and her sister, June Viverito, wrote numerous letters to the Army, asking what happened to their brother.

“You are my last hope,” Viverito wrote in 1993.

Two months ago, the Army contacted Mitchell, letting her know that her brother’s remains had been identified. Unfortunately, Viverito had passed away about five years earlier.

Mitchell is MacLean’s only surviving sibling.

The youngest of 10 siblings, Mitchell and MacLean were incredibly close. Mitchell was just three minutes older than her brother, who was sickly as a child because of frequent bouts of pneumonia. Mitchell was charged by their mother, Victoria MacLean, with taking care of him.

“We did everything together,” Mitchell said. “Where you’d find him, you’d find me. When he got in a fight, I’d have to fight him out of it, too. ... When he joined the Army, I tried to go to, but they wouldn’t take me.”

Born in Elkhart, Ind., the two grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in Chicago, a move made after their father, Alexander MacLean, died when they were 2 years old.

When their mother married again, they spent their time moving back and forth between Chicago and their mother’s new home in Ohio.

MacLean enlisted in Tuscarawas, Ohio, through the buddy system, a program that let friends enlist together.

He thought he’d get to finish high school, Mitchell said, but after training and a furlough, four months after enlisting MacLean was sent to Korea, a private first class with Company D, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division.

“He wrote occasionally to tell us how cold it was there and everything,” Mitchell said.

They would send him care packages, the last with fruitcakes, and letters. Even though the last letters her mother and sisters sent ­MacLean were returned, Mitchell never got hers back and she said she’ll never know whether he’d gotten it.

MacLean’s unit was part of a regimental combat team that fought on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, according to a military report given to Mitchell detailing the identification of her brother.

The battalion was spread out in a crescent, straddling an unimproved road, when the Chinese attacked in late November, the report said. After a series of nighttime battles, MacLean’s battalion retreated south.

While it is unknown when or how MacLean was killed, he was reported missing after the Nov. 27 to Nov. 29 fighting.

Mitchell was coming up the stairs at Viverito’s house when she passed the telegram deliverer, who gave her the telegram, she said. Mitchell and her mother were visiting Viverito ahead of the holidays.

“They really don’t tell you anything only that at the time, he was missing in action and that they didn’t have any other information on him,” she said. “I guess that’s how they informed everybody.”

They would watch the news looking for him and scour pictures of prisoners of war. Mitchell thought she saw him once. Even after the war ended and the years passed, they didn’t give up.

“It’s a thing where you don’t want to let go,” Mitchell said, adding that she didn’t want to believe the bones so carefully laid out in the report were MacLean’s.

But the report detailed the identification process and Mitchell came to terms with the fact that all her “maybe this and maybe that” scenarios weren’t going to come true.

MacLean’s remains were turned over by the Chinese in 1954 as part of Operation Glory, an exchange of war dead, the report said. The Chinese said they were the remains of an American serviceman who died and was buried on the eastern bank of the Chosin Reservoir.

The U.S. Army’s Central Identification Unit was unable to identify him at the time, and he was buried along with more than 800 other unidentified Korean War veterans at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, it said.

In 2012, it was determined that new technology could make identification possible and the case was reopened, the report said. A DNA match confirmed the remains belonged to MacLean.

Mitchell has one more thing to do before she lays her brother to rest Aug. 31. She wants to find rhododendrons to lay on her brother’s coffin, a reminder of the last thing he said to her.

“They were in my mother’s front yard,” she said. “He said they were beautiful. Then he got in a car and left.”

Funeral arrangements:

A procession carrying Cpl. Donald Victor MacLean’s remains is expected to arrive in McHenry from O’Hare International Airport between 1:30 and 2 p.m. Wednesday. The procession will exit Interstate 90 at Route 31 and loop through McHenry, Route 31 to Route 120 to Green Street and back south to Justen Funeral Home, 3700 Charles J. Miller Road.

The burial with full military honors will take place at 1 p.m. Aug. 31 at Windridge Memorial Park Cemetery, 7014 S. Rawson Bridge Road, Cary.

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