Soldier's remains return to Wisconsin 65 years later

Posted at 8:49 PM, Oct 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-13 21:53:01-04

A Wisconsin soldier killed in the Korean conflict returned home on Thursday. The final homecoming took more than 65 years to happen.

The plane carrying Army Cpl. Donald Hendrickson arrived at Mitchell International Airport to servicemen saluting and family standing by.

"It's overwhelming really,” said Hendrickson’s niece Barbara Truman. “It's something we never dreamed could have happened."

The last time Truman saw her uncle was when she was 5-years-old.

"I was just a kid, he was a kid,” she said. “He joined when he was 17 to 19."

Hendrickson was deployed for the Korean War. After a battle against Chinese forces in 1950 he was reported missing and declared deceased three years later.

Hendrickson’s mother kept pushing to bring him home.

"This was her dying wish and this was our dying wish," niece Beth Elder said.

It wasn't until a recovery operation in 2001 when teams retraced the soldier's path. Hendrickson's remains were found, but given all the time that had passed it took DNA analysis to identify him earlier this month.

"We had definitely given up hope there was even an opportunity to have this happen," niece Bonnie Dixon said.

After decades of stories and wondering about the unknown, Hendrickson’s family now has closure.

"We couldn't believe it, 65 years after he had been missing,” Dixon said.

"You've accepted this long ago, but the reality of him coming home is different," Truman added.

Hendrickson's final trip home was lined with dozens of family, military and even those with no ties. Dozens took the trip to Janesville to pay their respects to a man who made the ultimate sacrifice.

"It's an honor to have this happen and we hope it happens to more families," Dixon said.

The fallen soldier's funeral will take place in Janesville on Saturday with full military honors. Hendrickson will be buried next to his mother.