Army Cpl. Donald R. Hendrickson will finally be laid to rest after being reported missing in action in the Korean War more than 60 years ago.
His niece Bonnie Dixon never met her uncle, but she grew up hearing all about him.
“Our whole family knew of our uncle,” she said. “My grandmother considered him a living being. She was waiting for him to come home. She assumed he was alive someplace and one day he would be walking through the door.”
While in the Army, Hendrickson and his mother wrote numerous letters.
“We have all of the letters that were written,” Dixon said. “They wrote several to each other, several in a week to each other. So we have a sense through those letters as to how much they meant to each other.”
Dixon said even when Hendrickson stopped writing back, her grandmother never gave up hope of finding her son.
“He was missing in action Dec. 6, 1950, and she continued writing until they finally considered him being deceased and that was in 1953,” Dixon said. “From then on, she wrote the Army, she wrote organizations for MIA/POWs. She tried to find anybody that knew of him. She never gave up till the day she died in ’94.”
Dixon said several years ago, her family was contacted to submit DNA.
“My mother and my sister gave DNA, and we thought nothing of it,” she said. “That was probably in the early 2000s.”
Fast-forward to May of 2016, the family got a call.
“They contacted my oldest sister, who is the oldest living descendant, and said that the DNA had matched and they had found our uncle,” Dixon said.
The family was in disbelief.
“I think all of us assumed we would never find out whatever happened to him,” Dixon said. “We were all stunned, just stunned.”
Over the last few months, the family has been working with the military, a local funeral home and cemetery to arrange a special homecoming for the fallen soldier.
Neal Schneider, co-owner of Schneider Funeral Home and Crematory, has helped plan the ceremony for Hendrickson.
“He’s an American hero. He is definitely an honor,” he said. “He’s what fought for us, and he lost his life for our country, and we need so much support for our veterans.”
Hendrickson’s remains will be flown from Hawaii to the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. A motorcade will escort his remains from the airport to the funeral home in Janesville, which is located at 1800 E. Racine St. The community is invited to line Racine Street from the roundabouts to the funeral home Thursday afternoon to welcome Hendrickson home.
A funeral with full military honors is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 15. The community is once again invited to line the streets from Cargill United Methodist Church to Oak Hill Cemetery around 11 a.m. A motorcade will escort Hendrickson’s remains starting on Wesley Avenue, turning left on South Harmony Drive, left on East Memorial Drive and right on North Washington Street.