A 25th Infantry Division soldier who died in North Korea in early 1951 was among the last batch of fallen GIs the U.S. military was able to bring home from the hermit nation.
Alarm raised 11 years ago over North Korea’s escalating nuclear armament brought a halt to the military recovery program to the country. It has never resumed.
Cpl. David T. Nordin Jr., who was with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, on the Kuryong River southwest of the town of Unsan, was reported missing Nov. 28, 1950, after Chinese forces launched a massive offensive. He died as a prisoner of war at Hofong Camp in the hands of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces.
More than 130 of the 35th regiment’s soldiers were killed or captured on Nov. 27 and 28 alone.
In April and May 2005 a recovery team from what is now known as the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii conducted what turned out to be the last recovery mission to North Korea, bringing back from Unsan County the remains of at least 30 service members, the agency said.
Nordin was among them. He was buried Friday in Washington state, his family said.
Valerie Nordin Rocha, the Army corporal’s niece, said she feels “very fortunate” that her uncle was among the last group repatriated in 2005. “We’re very blessed,” she added.
About 5,500 American service members remain missing in North Korea from the 1950-53 war.
In the first half of 2005, North Korea ratcheted up security concerns on the peninsula by saying that it would suspend participation in six-party talks seeking its denuclearization, the Congressional Research Service said.
In April the United States feared that North Korea was planning another nuclear test. The following month, the North announced it had removed 8,000 fuel rods from a reactor for reprocessing. At the time it was estimated the effort could yield six to eight more nuclear bombs.
On May 25, 2005, the Pentagon said it was suspending recovery operations in North Korea due to “force protection” concerns over the safety of the Hawaii team members, who were operating without any means of communicating outside the country, CRS said.
No recovery team has been back in over a decade, and North Korea has only become more belligerent.
“Joint recovery operations in North Korea were suspended because the conditions in North Korea were not conducive to the safety of American personnel executing those missions,” Maj. Natasha Waggoner, a DPAA spokeswoman, said in an email. “This is a unique U.S. government mission, and taken in overall context, the environment in North Korea raised some serious concerns with regard to safety of the U.S. personnel we put on the ground. We are prepared to return to the missions when North Korea’s actions demonstrate a willingness to live up to its commitments.”
Between July 1996 and May 2005, the forerunner of DPAA, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, conducted 33 “joint field activity” recovery missions in North Korea, returning to Hawaii with more than 220 sets of remains. The U.S. government had paid North Korea nearly $20 million for the remains recovery, the Associated Press said.
In 2007 North Korea turned over the remains of six American soldiers to an American delegation that included then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Five years later, in 2012, the U.S. recovery mission was set to resume, but was canceled at the last minute after it was learned North Korean might conduct another missile test.
Nordin was part of the 25th Infantry Division, but family members aren’t aware of him being stationed in Hawaii. The division was serving on occupation duty on the Japanese island of Honshu when North Korean Communist forces invaded the South on June 25, 1950, and the division was ordered to Korea.
In late November 1950, Nordin and Company K were moving along the west side of the Kuryong River when Chinese forces attacked, and the 35th regiment was ordered to withdraw to a new defensive area, DPAA said.
The Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces and North Korean People’s Army provided lists of prisoners during the war, and according to the reporting, Nordin died in captivity, the agency said.
Charlotte Hamilton of Henderson, Nev., who’s now 95, remembers that her younger brother, whom she always knew as “Buster,” was just a “fun guy.”
“He was my buddy. We were a very close-knit family,” she said.
Since he was 15, “all he talked about was joining the service,” Hamilton said. “And of course, my mother, that was not what she was thinking of.”
In Korea, Nordin was wounded several times. Rocha, his niece, said the Army at one point had Nordin listed as missing — and told his mother as much — when he was actually recovering in a hospital in Japan.
Each time, he was sent back into the fighting. Finally, he never returned.
Hamilton said getting her younger brother back from the war for burial brings some closure, even after decades have passed.
“My poor mother and dad, they went through an awful lot because, as I said, we’re a close-knit family, and this (loss) was very, very, very hard on both my parents but especially my mother,” Hamilton said. “She never got over it.”