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Spokane soldier’s remains, missing since 1950, identified

The remains of Spokane soldier who went missing in 1950 in Korea have been identified, the Department of Defense said Friday.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard L. Harris was 23 when the 2nd Infantry Division was attacked by Chinese forces north of Kujang, North Korea on Nov. 26, 1950. During the battle – named the Battle of the Chongchon – 676 Americans were killed and more than 2,000 were captured, among them Harris, who was reported missing on Nov. 30.

In 1953, when captured American soldiers were returned during Operation Big Switch, fellow servicemen reported that Harris had been a prisoner and died from malnutrition on Jan. 22, 1951.

Harris’ cousin, Julia Doyle, said Friday that Harris was born in California but was sent to Spokane as a newborn to be raised by his aunt. He attended St. Xavier School and enlisted when he was 16, she said.

“He was a typical kid, a good kid,” said Doyle, who is 86 and lives in Seattle. “None of us drank or smoked – the weed thing was not even thought of.”

Doyle said she was notified of the remains – a jawbone – as Harris’ next of kin, and immediately called her brother, who besides her is Harris’ only remaining relative, she said.

“After 51 years, we’d given up hope,” she said. “We’d had hopes, but as the family dwindled away,” those hopes diminished.

Harris will be buried with full military honors in Kent, Wash., on Tuesday, according to a Department of Defense press release.

The jawbone was found as part of a joint effort by the United States and the North Korean governments to find and identify the remains of soldiers who went missing during the three-year conflict that claimed more than 33,000 American lives.

In 2005, a recovery team excavated a burial site in Unsan County, North Korea. The site correlated with the position of the 2nd Infantry Division in late November 1950. The team recovered human remains, and submitted a total of 69 samples to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory for analysis, according to a Department of Defense press release.

Along with forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the JPAC and AFDIL used dental records and mitochondrial DNA – which matched that of Harris’s cousins – in the identification of his remains.

Between 1996 and 2005, the U.S-North Korean program recovered the remains of what is believed to be more than 225 servicemen, according to the defense department. The missions to North Korea were halted because of “increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” the defense department said, but in October announced that American teams would be returning to the secretive nation this year.

Today, more than 7,900 Americans remain unaccounted-for from the Korean War. Identifications continue to be made from the remains that were returned to the United States, using forensic and DNA technology.


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