U.S. Army Cpl. Donald Therkelsen died 62 years ago, 10 days before the Korean War armistice. The 23-year-old medic died two years after marrying his wife, Patricia, and three months before his daughter, Linda, was born.
On Thursday, his remains were flown to Spokane, a place the Illinois native likely never visited.
“Yeah, it has been a strange journey, to hear all these things about my grandpa that I’ve never even met,” said Emily Mitchell, Therkelsen’s granddaughter.
Therkelsen went missing on July 17 at the Battle of Kumsong, which was the last major Chinese offensive of the war. Although officially listed as missing in action, several soldiers saw Therkelsen get shot in the back as he tended to an injured soldier.
Because his unit was retreating, they were unable to recover his body, Mitchell said.
In October 1953, Linda, Therkelsen’s daughter, was born. Her mother, Patricia, remarried in 1956 and didn’t tell Linda about her biological father until she was 12.
Patricia and her second husband, George Weisbecker, moved to Spokane in 1985 from Chicago. Patricia died in 2008. Therkelsen’s daughter, Linda Pollock, works for Spokane Public Schools.
Shortly after Therkelsen’s death, one of the soldiers who served with him visited Patricia and told her Therkelsen was dead, despite still being officially listed as missing in action.
“I think he wanted to give my grandma peace of mind,” Mitchell said.
The Army called in November to inform the family that Therkelsen’s remains had been found. The family debated what to do with his body, Mitchell said.
They decided it wasn’t appropriate to bury him next to his wife, Patricia. She’s buried next to her second husband. Instead, they plan to bury Therkelsen at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake on Saturday.
The entire experience has been surreal, Mitchell said.
“To be honest, I think she’s having a hard time because she doesn’t feel a connection,” Mitchell said of her mother. “We didn’t know him.”
Therkelsen’s remains were flown on a Delta flight from Hawaii to Spokane International Airport, where they were met by an Army National Guard Honor Guard.
“It’s just important,” said honor guard member Staff Sgt. Joshua Daly. “It’s a farewell to a fallen hero. They do so much for their country. It’s a little thing you can do to show respect.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.