Corporal Donald L. Baer has been identified after 67 years as an unknown x-file from the Korean War.
Confirmation was given to the family on September 28 after disinterment of the x-file remains from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (the PunchBowl) in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced a positive identification by means of the chest radiograph comparison of Donald’s TB chest X-ray taken in 1948 to the clavicle bones of his skeletal remains.
Donald Lavern Baer was born March 7, 1930, to Elizabeth Mary and Vernon Jay Baer in Nashville, Michigan. His mother died June 10, 1932, and the family moved to Brainerd, Minnesota to be nearer to the family. At the age of two, Donal and his infant sister Barbara lived with his grandparents, Goldie and Fred Baer. His father and older six siblings lived close by.
Donald attended local schools in Brainerd area and continued to live and help on his grandparents’ farm. When his father and family moved to Racine, he would travel to visit and made extended stays.
Vernon Baer, Donald’s father served in WWI and his three older brothers, George, Raymond and Clarence served in WWII. Frank Baer his younger brother served during the cold war. Donald felt the family obligation to serve and joined the Army in Racine, Wisconsin on June 28, 1948, at the age of 18.
He was in boot camp at Fort Knox, Ky, transferred to Ft. Lawton, WA. and deployed as part of post-WWII occupational forces at Camp Mower in Sasebo, Japan. He was assigned to K company, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. His company guarded the ammo dump at Camp Mower.
North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 28, 1950. Donald, who was with the 19th, 21st and his 34th regiment, was sent to Korea July 2, 1950, as a holding action. These were the first units in after the 540 men with Task Force Smith. The men were ill-equipped and under-manned for what they found in Korea.
On July 12, the 24th Division was sent in to cross the Kum River. They destroyed all of the bridges behind them and established defensive positions around Taejon, a major South Korean city 100 miles south of Seoul and 130 miles northwest of Pusan.
This was the site of the 24th Infantry Division headquarters. Taejon was a major transportation hub between Seoul and Taegu, giving it great strategic value for both the American and North Korean forces. The 24th Infantry Division’s three infantry regiments were below strength on deployment and they sustained heavy losses, which reduced their numbers further. The regiments were exhausted from the previous two weeks of delaying actions. The loss of equipment and communications hampered the 24th Division’s efforts. Most of the radios available to the division did not work. Batteries, communication wire, and telephones to communicate among units were in short supply. The division had no tanks: its new M26 Pershing and older M4A3 Sherman tanks were still en route.
Major General Dean ordered to hold the area around Taejon airfield and the supply line to the port of Pusan. This area was needed to supply reinforcements and supplies which were to follow.
Donald and company K were defending the airport and main road into Taejon, South Korea on July 19, 1950, when fierce fighting began. In the early morning hours on July 20, 1950, Donald became MIA. He was declared dead as were all unrecovered service members as of December 31, 1953.
How the family learned more about Donald’s death
That’s all our family knew until 2001 when we submitted DNA samples to the DPMO in hopes that his remains would be recovered. In the internet search for means to submit DNA, we found that Donald was listed by the Army as a POW and on the Johnny Johnson list. This list was kept by a young man of 18 with the moral guidance of knowing the families would want to know the names of the men who died around him.
Johnny Wayne Johnson kept names of the fallen POW’s which marched on the Tiger Death March to the first prison camp known as the Apex camp at Hanjang-ni, North Korea on the Yalu River. He kept the list of the men who died en route and during the 38 months at the camp. He was severely beaten twice when a copy of the list was discovered by his captures. At a veterans reunion, Johnny’s coveted list was discovered by a military historian and made public in 1995. Donald Baer’s name is on that list with a death date of December 3, 1950.
Family members began to attend the DPMO meetings, which are now the DPAA for updates as to details and available reports about Donald. In doing so we discovered eyewitnesses to his being at the Apex camp nor having died there.
Thanks to Shorty Estabrook who has been a wonderful source of information for the Tiger Survivors, he confirmed with Johnny Johnson that Donald’s name was added to his list but not on his original list. Survivors from the Apex camp that were stationed with Donald in Japan had no knowledge of Donald in the camp. Over 900 men and General Dean were taken POW in July, 1950 and perhaps his name was added due to his MIA date and location by the military.
The Korean War X-Files
In reviewing his personal files we began trying to find a living veteran who may have know Donald. After attending veteran POW and then 24th Division reunions. We found Wayne Parson who was with Donald on the road to Taejon on July 20, 1950. Wayne was a career soldier. Having served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, he retired as Sergeant Major and died in 2004. Wayne told us Donald was lost in the battle of Taejon.
In the military files we received from the DPMO, we found that five sets of remains were recovered in the Taejon area in February 22, 1951 some seven months after the battle. One set of remains was identified and the four were buried in Tanggok, South Korea as unknowns. In 1954 they were disinterred and sent to the mortuary in Kokura, Japan. Still not being identified, they were sent to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific for internment on February 3, 1956 as X-Files, or unknowns. Donald has been among this group of 850 Unknown men for the last 61 years in grave site 417.
In 2010 the files were declassified about the Punch Bowl X-Files and John Zimmerlee has been instrumental with his exhaustive researching of these files at the National Archive. His research has made connections with the associated names and artifacts that are attached to these X-Files. He has been instrumental and supportive to us family members who have asked for disinterment of the X-Files we believe to be our family member. John’s father was lost as a pilot in Korea and is the executive director for the Korean War POW/MIA Network serving more than 4,200 families of the missing. He made us aware in 2015 of the 24th Division helmet inscribed with Donald’s name found in the Taejon area where the four unidentified remains were recovered.
Recovering the remains
We requested disinterment of X-file 450 in 2015 and again in 2016 and received notification that x-file 453 (one of the four remains recovered in 1951) was disinterred on August 14, 2017 and positively identified as Donald Baer on August 24, 2017.
Corporal Baer was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Prisoner of War Medal (he was originally reported as a prisoner), the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, Army Good Conduct Metal, Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon and the National Defense Service Medal. The Republic of Korea has also awarded their Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation and in 2015 while sisters Joan Knautz and Janet Baril were in South Korea Donald was awarded the Ambassador for Peace Metal.
Donald’s deceased family members include, parents, Elizabeth and Vernon Baer, brothers and sisters: George Baer, Florence Fleischhacker, Rosemary Halbur, Raymond Baer, Clarence Baer, Dorothy Gay, Barbara Baer and Frank Baer. Still surviving are sisters Eleanor Ball, Joan Knautz, Janet Baril and Carol Preston. He had, many nieces, nephews and cousins who did not have the opportunity to meet and correspond with Donald, but all are aware of the price he paid.
The Honor flight bringing Donald’s remains from Honolulu, Hawaii to Milwaukee, Wisconsin is scheduled to land at 3:52 PM on American Airlines flight #579 Thursday 11/09/17. TSgt Daniel D. Knautz of the US Air Force stationed at Minot AFB, ND is escorting his great uncle on his final flight home.
Services to commemorate Donald’s life will be held at West Lawn Memorial Park Chapel at 1 p.m. on November 11 with Rev. Mark Doidge officiating. The family would like to visit, share pictures and research information with friends at a light lunch provided at the American Legion Hall, located at 1027 New Street in Union Grove, Wisconsin following graveside services.
After 67 years, Donald will now rest between his father, Vernon and older brother, George.
Thank you to all who helped make this possible: the dedicated people at the DPMO and DPAA, the family members who have submitted DNA, the Veterans who patiently networked to help us find Wayne Parsons and Charlie Cole, Larry Gay and Tim Casey for the POW information and 24th Division history. Shorty Estabrook and Johnny Johnson who are heros as are all the men who fought and died in Korea.
No flowers please, donations will be accepted for a flag pole placed at West Lawn Memorial Park to fly his Memorial Flag. This was a special request by his sister Rosemary who never gave up hope of bringing Donnie home.
There are still 790 Korean war remains in Hawaii as Unknowns and families that have not submitted needed DNA to help with their identification. Please visit the online WWW.KOREAN WAR. ORG created and maintained by Hal & Ted Barker to find more information about the needed DNA.
The DPAA now has the means to identify these remains by DNA and/or Radiograph comparison. Please write your congressmen to ask for disinterment of all these remains and have them identified. Please visit John Zimmerlee’s research listing for these X-Files at WWW.koreanwar powmia.net.
Help us return all these men in USA possession to their families –they have remained as UNKNOWNS far too long!!!
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