Korean war vet ID'd 67 years after battle

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Cpl. Donald Baer was 20 when his regiment — among the first — was sent to North Korea just days after North Korean forces invaded the south in 1950.

Undermanned and ill-equipped, the 540 men with Task Force Smith were ill-prepared for what they found in Korea.

Baer was with Company K, defending the airport and main road near Taejon, South Korea, when heavy fighting broke out Sept. 19, 1950. The following morning, he was considered missing in action.

Now, 67 years later, his family finally has answers and will spend Veterans Day laying their uncle to rest.

Bonnie Baer of Duluth, Vickie Effinger of Solon Springs and Eric Olson of Lake Nebagamon and their families are planning to make the trip to Racine, Wis. today to bury their uncle, 67 years after he went missing in North Korea.

"I don't care if they have to roll me in carpet and strap me to the bumper; I don't care how I get there — I'm going," said Baer, who was born two years after her uncle went missing and one year before her grandfather received the letter that declared him dead in 1953.

Baer's remains were returned to Wisconsin this week after being positively identified in August.

Effinger said she first learned her uncle had been found when she got a call from Baer's daughter, Tina.

"I never knew that Uncle Donald was listed as MIA; I just assumed he had died or something," Effinger said.

Olson said he had read the identification had been made by comparing a chest x-ray his great uncle had taken in 1948 to the clavicle bone of his skeletal remains, which had been interred as an unknown at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The story is much bigger than him, Olson said, noting there are still more than 750 sets of remains unidentified from the Korean War.

Saturday, Donald Baer will be laid to rest between his father, Vernon Baer, a World War I veteran, and his older brother, George, a veteran of World War II and Effinger and Baer's father, in Racine, where the corporal joined the Army in 1948 at age 18.

Born in Michigan, Donald Baer grew up in Brainerd, Minn., before the family moved to Racine.

"It'll be such an honor to be a small part of it," Bonnie Baer said. She said when Olson called to invite her to attend the service, there was no hesitation.

"I didn't know him, but figure if he was anything like my dad or my grandpa, he was one heck of a man," Baer said.

"I'm just so proud because of what he went through," Effinger said. "Anybody that serves should be honored, and you should be honored to honor them ... I am so honored to be there. I'm just so proud."