William E. Wood – Corporal, United States Army

William E. Wood

Maricopa, Arizona
Born 1929
Service Number 17262014
Missing in Action – Presumed Dead
Died November 2, 1950 in Korea

Corporal Wood was a member of Company C, 8th Engineer Combat Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. He was listed as Missing in Action while defending his position along the Yalu River near Unsan, North Korea on November 2, 1950.

He was presumed dead on December 31, 1953. Corporal Wood was awarded the Purple Heart, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

14 September 2006:

Dorothy Brauburger hasn’t seen her brother, Bill Wood, for more than 50 years.

He was lost and assumed killed in action in 1950 in the Korean War. However, six years ago, a joint project of the American and North Korean governments found Wood and six of his comrades-in-arms buried in Unsan County in North Korea. Next year, his remains return to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Wood was 21 years old at the time of his death.

“He’s getting back to the place where he belongs, the United States,” Brauburger said.

Even though it’s been so long, Braubuger recounted how her brother would help her with her math homework when they were growing up and how he would play baseball with friends at their home in Minnesota. She said searching for him was a long, drawn-out process, but it’s a relief something was found.

Her son, Kenneth Olson, said it means a lot to the family that they finally know what happened. He also expressed thanks to the government for working to recover Wood and other soldiers killed in action.

“We’re a military family. Almost everyone’s served in the military in the family and it means a lot that the government has taken the time to do this for us,” Olson said. “I think we’re probably the greatest country on Earth for it, because we do take care of our own.”

Wood was an engineer in the U.S. Army, attached to either 1st or 2nd Battalion in the 8th Cavalry Regiment in late October 1950.

The 8th Cavalry was a part of the occupation forces in Japan. After the North Koreans drove south and took the whole country, with the exception of an area around Pusan in the southeast, the 8th Cavalry went to Korea as part of the reinforcements.

When General Douglas McArthur launched an attack at In’chon in September 1950, North Korean supply lines were cut and allied forces drove the Communists north to the Yalu River, the border between Korea and China.

The Chinese army launched a surprise invasion to back up the North Koreans a month later, sweeping across the Yalu and the north of the peninsula.

Wood’s unit was 50 miles southwest of the Yalu in Unsan County when the Chinese overran it, part of the first battles between American troops and the Chinese. Chinese soldiers attacked the night of Oct. 30, ringing the area on the north, west and south sides, forcing a fierce battle. At midnight Nov. 2, the 8th Cavalry was ordered to withdraw, but Wood’s battalion’s evacuation route was cut off and covered in Chinese troops. Conditions for the American troops were dire and soldiers tried to buddy up individually and evacuate through the enemy lines.

The bodies were buried on a known escape route from the area. Paul Bethke of the U.S. Army Casualty and Memorial Affairs Division said they, most likely, were in the process of retreat along their supply lines and tried to get around the flank and behind the Chinese troops.

Bethke said when prisoners of war were exchanged after the armistice, soldiers were asked if they knew what happened to people who were listed as missing in action. Because of the heavy losses to Wood’s unit, most of the people he knew died in battle. After the exchanges and debriefings ended, Wood and other MIAs that could not be located were declared killed in action December 1, 1953.

The U.S. Defense Department has an extensive program to find and recover American soldiers all over the world, including hard-to-reach areas in the United States like mountain tops. The program started in the mid-‘80s because of lobbying by family members of Vietnam veterans who were missing or assumed killed in action.

Identification is established through mitochondrial DNA from family members, other soldiers’ accounts of what happened and historical documents.

“We try to bring them back,” Bethke said. “In a case where we are overrun, or the fighting scenario doesn’t allow us to do that, we try to go back after the fact. Sometimes that might be days, weeks or 56 years. But the government has not given up.”

By law, the federal government pays for the burial arrangements and some travel costs for family. Brauburger’s youngest son, Sgt. Maj. Brian J. Olson, will escort Wood’s remains from Hawaii to Washington, D.C., when a plot becomes open at Arlington.

When he is buried, Wood will receive full military honors, as does any soldier who is killed on duty overseas.

“In the nine person detail, there’s six people that serve as pallbearers and the honor guard firing party,” Bethke said. “They also fold the flag and present the flag. The other three people are the military chaplain, a senior person like a non-commissioned officer and a bugler.

“If he died on active duty, he died on active duty. We’re just bringing him home 56 years later.”

‘She just never gave up on him'
After 56 years, the remains of Minnesota soldier killed in Korea have been identified, partly throughhis sister's persistent efforts to learn his fate and bring closure.
Matt McKinney,
Courtesy of the Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minnesota) Star Tribune
3 December 2006

‘She just never gave up on him'

For more than 50 years, the family of William E. Wood, a young man from Moorhead, Minn., who went off to war and never came back, was left to wonder about his fate.His story was frozen in time for so long it seemed hard for them to believe that it would ever end.

Now, at last, it has.

Late Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense reported that the remains of Wood and seven other U.S. soldiers missing since a 1950 Korean War battle had been identified and that relatives have been notified this fall.

“My folks spent many years trying to locate him,” Dorothy Braburger, 79, Wood's sister, said Saturday from Welaka, Florida, where she lives.

But she took up her brother's case, too.

Braburger, a World War II Navy veteran, said she saw an article nearly 10 years ago about efforts to find soldiers missing in Korea.

Braburger, whose parents and five other siblings died over the years, contacted the Pentagon office mentioned in the story and arranged to donate DNA in the event that Wood's remains were ever found.

“The whole thing about this is my mother,” Brian Olson, one of Dorothy Braburger's sons, said Saturday. “She just never gave up on him.”

The remains of the eight soldiers and others were found by a farmer near Unsan, North Korea, and identified through dental records and DNA samples.

Olson, a noncommissioned Army officer stationed in El Paso, Texas, plans to fly to Hawaii to collect his uncle's remains, where they have been kept at an Air Force base since they were identified. The family plans to bury Wood at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington next year.

A letter and other memories

Olson, 43, said his earliest memories of his uncle are of the things family members kept to remind themselves of him: a newspaper clipping, photographs, a commendation for a Purple Heart.

The last letter that Wood sent to his sister Dorothy was dated two months before the 1950 battle. Olson read from it on Saturday.

“Hi sis,” it began. “I'll bet you're tired of writing with no answers, so we'll scratch a few lines out,” wrote Wood, who was 21 at the time. He joked of earning money either through a paycheck or through the insurance paid to families of soldiers killed in battle, but then told his sister not to worry.

“There isn't a chance of anything happening to me because there isn't anyplace for me to go. St. Peter won't let me in because of my past and the devil won't take me back because I've reformed.”

Shortly after Wood wrote the letter, the Korean War took a brutal turn for U.S. forces. A battle that began Nov. 1 saw Chinese forces overrun a group of U.S. soldiers, including Wood's company. A soldier who survived the battle said many others were surrounded.

About 8,100 Americans remain missing in action from the Korean War. Recovery teams have found the remains of 220 soldiers since 1996.

Olson, who has 25 years of Army service and served one year in Iraq, was wounded two years ago in that country when a mortar round peppered his legs with shrapnel. He said he's struck by the tone in his uncle's letters from the front.

“I understand what had to have been going through his mind and what he was feeling,” Olson said. “Everything around him is chaos, and there's the bad guys out there looking for you. I try not to think about how scared he was.”

Olson said the family has found some solace in the thought that William Wood died with other soldiers. “My uncle, to be with those other guys, I pray that … their last thoughts were about being together.”

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