Remains of Michigan soldier returning home after nearly 70 years

Posted at 9:00 PM, Mar 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-14 22:48:08-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The remains of a Michigan soldier are returning home Thursday after going missing 68 years ago. Army Sgt. 1st Class Harry Harkness went missing in 1950 during the Korean War and was presumed dead. He was 22-years old.

His remains were identified just recently, and now they will be flown to Grand Rapids.  It's a day his family says they always knew would come.

"I was very excited," said Susan McClain, the daughter of Harry's wife Lois Enghoffer. "Tears of joy, disbelief."

Disbelief, McClain says, that the remains of her mother's first husband had been identified.

"I have their letters that they exchanged back and forth when he was in the service," McClain said. "Which I have read a few of them."

Harry and Lois were married on July 15, 1950, just 15 days before Harry left to fight in the Korean War.

Harkness was taken as a prisoner of war in November 1950 and is believed to have died there.  He would never meet his son, Harry Jr., born just a few weeks later. Harry Jr., born with cerebral palsy, died in 2001 at 50 years old.

In 1993, North Korea handed over 34 boxes of American remains to the United States. Those boxes held three bones, later identified as Harkness.

The Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) works to identify the remains of missing Americans from past conflicts.

"DPAA is a relatively new organization," said the agency's director Chuck Prichard. "We were put together from primarily three organizations. One of our predecessor organizations ended up with those remains and since 1993 has been working to solve this mystery of all these co-mingled bones and materials that were in these boxes that the Koreans gave us."

The DPAA believes there are 83,000 Americans that are unaccounted for just between World War II and the Gulf War, with a majority being from WWII.  They have a full-time staff of about 600 people working to try and identify these people, and find hundreds every  year.

Susan's mother Lois sent DNA from herself and her son Harry Jr. to Washing ton DC in case they ever found Harry Sr.'s remains. Lois' daughter tells FOX 17 that her mother never gave up hope and that she always knew Harry would come home.

On Thursday, Harkness will return home to Michigan from a lab in Hawaii, his remains escorted for Army 1st Lt. Bradley Patterson, Susan's nephew.  Patterson was also stationed in Hawaii, working in the same building as the lab where Harkness was identified.

The Patriot Guard Riders will have a flag line waiting at Gerald R. Ford International Airport Thursday to welcome his remains.

"We're going to be there with our flags and we're going to stand and whoever wants to come out can stand with us," said Patriot Guard Ride Captain Tony Van Gessel. "I'd like to see the whole service road lined with people. That'd be neat for the family to see that."

They'll be lining up at the Ford Airport at 12:15 p.m. Thursday.