Oakville soldier missing from Korean War identified

U.S. Army Sgt. Ervin Fricke, of Oakville, left for Korea in 1950 but returned home only a few months ago.

On Friday, the Department of Defense announced that Fricke’s remains had been identified and would be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

For Fricke’s family — some of whom remain in Lewis County — it was long sought closure.

“There’s no words,” said niece Marsha Kershaw, 62, of Elma. “I just wish that there was more family still alive because this would have meant a great deal to them — especially the boys because there were so many in the military.”

An unlikely source sparked the renewed effort to identify Fricke.

Bret Richardson, to whom Fricke would have been a great-uncle, began the investigation in 2003. At the time, Richardson, an Army staff sergeant, was working in a division tasked with recovering DNA from areas of conflict and using the DNA to identify missing soldiers. Richardson, 41, had heard about his uncle who disappeared during the Korean War and wondered if the family might finally find answers. He made some inquiries and gave the Army contact information for his aunt, Bonnie Perkins, of Centralia.

Then, the family waited.

Late last year, the Army informed the family that it had matched excavated remains — recovered from an agricultural field on the north bank of the Ch’ongch’on River — with DNA from the Fricke family.

It was a bittersweet ending for the family, Perkins, 77, said.

“There’s mixed reaction in my family,” she said. “For most it is heartening, but in some cases it’s revisiting a past they don’t want to think about.”

“I think all of us are glad that he’s going to be honored along with his comrades in arms,” she added. “Overall, we’re very grateful the government cared enough to return him and bury him in a place of honor — where he certainly deserves to be.”

A tank driver who served in World War II, Ervin Fricke headed back into combat “with a bunch of guys from Oakville,” in 1950, Perkins said.

“The last time I saw him I was a sophomore in high school,” Perkins, a sister of Fricke, said. “He told me my lipstick was too dark.”

Military service was the norm for the family. One of 12 children, Fricke as well as four of his brothers joined the military.

“During the war, everybody had flags to hang in their windows,” Perkins said. “Our flag had five stars.”

As a member of the 2nd Division of the 9th Infantry Regiment, Fricke was part of a November 1950 U.S. advance across the Ch’ongch’on River in northwest Korea. The 2nd Division was on the frontline when chinese communist forces attacked with “overwhelming force,” according to information provided by the Army.

For four days, the soldiers endured freezing temperatures, limited transportation and heavy fire.

By Nov. 29, 1950, more than half of the 9th Infantry Regiment had died, and 1,350 men — Fricke among them — were declared missing in action.

The Army issued a presumptive finding of death on Dec. 31, 1953.

He will be buried on Tuesday in the Willamette National Cemetery in Portland.