Article - News - Korea MIA comes home
It's been more than 56 years since a young American soldier named Jimmie Dorser disappeared in the freezing, bloody cauldron that was the battle of the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.
But today, finally, Jimmie is coming home.
Shortly after noon, if all goes according to plan, a commercial flight will land at John Wayne Airport with a coffin on board. Inside the coffin, at long last released from the hard cold earth of North Korea, will be Jimmie's skeletal remains, still bearing evidence of a gunshot wound he suffered in that terrible battle so long ago. His bones will be wrapped in a wool Army blanket, with a fresh uniform draped over him, complete with all his medals and insignia.
A delegation will greet the coffin on the tarmac and then, with a police escort, Jimmie Dorser will be taken to a funeral home in Huntington Beach. He will stay there until Saturday morning, when with full military honors he will be buried at El Toro Memorial Park – a half a world and more than half a century away from where and when he died in this nation's service.
And for his two sisters, Betty Neilson, 71, and Terri Bommarito, 66, of Huntington Beach, their brother's homecoming is nothing less than miraculous.
"There wasn't a day that I didn't hope this would happen," says Terri, who was just 10 years old when her brother was lost. "It really is a miracle."
We can start this story in November 1950, when Army Pfc. Dorser, an 18-year-old infantryman from Springfield, Mo., assigned to the 31st Regimental Combat Team, was part of a seemingly victorious American army marching north toward the Yalu River, driving a defeated North Korean army before it. Everybody thought they'd be home by Christmas.
But the American high command didn't know that hundreds of thousands of Red Chinese soldiers had slipped across the border into North Korea. In overwhelming numbers, and amid sub-zero temperatures, the Chinese fell upon the American soldiers and Marines near the Chosin Reservoir and elsewhere.
Although it was a strategic defeat for the Americans, U.S. Marines remember the Chosin Reservoir battle as a proud moment, a time when they "attacked in a different direction" and made a fighting withdrawal with virtually all of their wounded and most of their dead. Less well-remembered was the Army's 31st RCT – Pfc. Dorser's unit – which helped defend the Marines' flank until the soldiers were overwhelmed and overrun, with the wounded and dead often left where they lay.
In all, the Army and Marines suffered almost 8,000 dead, wounded and missing in the battle. Pfc. Dorser was one of them.
His sister, Terri, remembers when her family got the news that Jimmie was missing in action. (His status was later changed to missing presumed dead.) Her mother, she says, never got over not knowing what had happened to her boy. Later, after the family had moved to California, she died not knowing.
Skip ahead a half century, to when a North Korean farmer was working in a field near the Chosin Reservoir and uncovered some bones. He reported it to authorities, and in 2002 members of the Hawaii-based U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command were allowed by the North Koreans to excavate the site. Skeletal remains of five Americans were found and sent to Hawaii for possible identification.
The find wasn't unprecedented. Although they're currently suspended, since 1996 U.S. teams have made a number of MIA searches inside North Korea, recovering more than 200 sets of remains, and the North Koreans have handed over about 200 more. Of those, just over 40 have been positively identified.
Meanwhile, Terri Bommarito heard about MIA remains being found in North Korea and contacted the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office to see if any of them could be her brother. They asked for a DNA sample from her, which she sent.
Then, just before Thanksgiving, Terri and Betty got the word. Their brother had been positively identified as one of the five Americans discovered by the North Korean farmer.
"I never really thought they would find him," Betty says. "I just can't get over it."
"It's an amazing story," says Sgt. 1st Class Michael Giangregorio, a "casualty assistance officer" at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base. Although the exact cause of death can't be determined, Giangregorio believes the circumstances indicate that Cpl. Dorser – he was officially promoted to corporal after he went missing – died doing his duty.
"It appears his position was overrun and he died still fighting the fight," Giangregorio says. "Cpl. Dorser was one of our brothers in arms, and we're going to do all we can to give him the honor he deserves."
There will be a visitation for Cpl. Dorser Friday from 4-8 p.m. at Advantage Funeral & Cremation Services, 627 Main St., Huntington Beach, and a military burial at El Toro Memorial Park in Lake Forest on Saturday at 11 a.m. Cpl. Dorser's sisters say the public is invited.
"We want people to know about this," Betty says.
Of course, there's still a long way to go in resolving the mysteries of the Korean War. The bodies of more than 8,000 Americans from that war remain missing – and many, perhaps most, may never be found and identified.
But at least for Cpl. Dorser's family there is an ending, a resolution, an answer.
Jimmie is coming home.