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Sgt. Donald Baker, missing in action in Korean War, laid to rest in Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS — Though she never knew the uncle, Kaggie Baker remembers seeing a photo of him in his U.S. Army uniform when she was growing up. It sat on a table at her grandmother’s house, and always was pointed out to her — the family’s fallen son, whose fate they never knew.

Sgt. Donald Baker was just 20 when he went missing in action while serving in the Korean War, leaving behind a brother, parents and other family and friends in Thorton, Ark. Most of the Baker family later moved to Cedar Rapids.

On Tuesday, nearly 68 years since he died, his remains were laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery, with full military honors.

Kaggie Baker said her grandparents always believed their son must have been captured and tortured. Though they and his brother have since died, she is happy her generation of the family now has closure.

“I was so elated he was honored as a soldier,” she said. “I can’t express the wonderful feeling I feel today.”

Baker’s unit was fighting enemy forces Sept. 6, 1950, near Haman, South Korea, when he was reported missing. A member of Company H, 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division in the Army, he was one of 34 members of his unit classified as missing in action.

The U.S. Army Graves Registration Services interred remains later recovered from Korean battlefields in temporary cemeteries in South Korea, but without evidence to verify identities, some were buried as “unknowns.” Those were later transferred the United Nations Military Cemetery in Masan, South Korea, then to the National Memorial Cemetery in the Pacific in Honolulu in 1955.

In October 2017, Baker’s remains were disinterred and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency used chest radiograph comparison, as well as dental and anthropological analysis, along with circumstantial evidence, to confirm Baker’s identity, which they did on Jan. 25.

Baker’s military awards and honors include the Purple Heart, Prisoner of War Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal (with Bronze Service Stars), Combat Infantryman Badge, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korean-Korean War Service Medal and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.

Baker wasn’t the only missing soldier returned to Iowa for burial this week.

A memorial service for Army Pfc. John H. Walker, who was reported missing in action during World War II, will take place at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Elmwood Cemetery in his hometown of Morning Sun in Southeastern Iowa. The 20-year-old was last seen alive on Nov. 24, 1944, during combat near Schonthal, Germany. In 2017, his remains were exhumed from the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium and identified.

Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered flags to fly at half-staff Tuesday and Wednesday in honor of both Baker and Walker.

Charlie Ross, a veteran Marine, attended Baker’s service Tuesday as part of a color guard, through the Marine Corps League. He said attending military funerals and showing respect for the dead and their loved ones is an important part of what it means to serve his country.

“We all stood up and held up our hand and took an oath, every one of us,” he said. “Today, I am truly honored to be able to do this.”

At the graveside, the rain paused for a gun salute, taps and presentation of an American flag to the gathered family, which included three generations of nieces, nephews and their children and grandchildren.

It was Junteenth, a day marked to commemorate the abolition of slavery, a history Kaggie Baker remarked on.

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“I’m sad, in a way, that he’s gone, and I didn’t get to see him growing up. But they gave him great honors today. I don’t know whether to cry, or laugh, or jump, or get happy,” she said. “I’m glad I lived to see this day. You know, we were living in slavery, but today we’re free, and we’re honored.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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