LYNNWOOD — David Nordin wrote his last letter home on Nov. 22, 1950. An Army corporal from California, he was serving in the Korean War. Two months earlier, he had earned a Bronze Star Medal for courageous action in battle.
In that last letter to his parents, he began by thanking them for candy. “All of the guys said that was the best peanut brittle they ever tasted,” the 23-year-old wrote. He ended his letter this way: “I’ll be OK. This war might end as suddenly as it started.”
What’s been called “the forgotten war” ended in 1953. But Nordin didn’t come home — not until this week.
The remains of Cpl. David T. Nordin Jr. arrived Tuesday at Sea-Tac Airport. His casket was flown from Hawaii, where Nordin’s 25th Infantry Division is still based. The flag-draped casket was met by Army and police escorts and by family from Snohomish County.
It was 2005 when bones later identified as Nordin’s were found by a recovery team in North Korea.
On Friday, Lynnwood’s Shirley Nordin and her family will be at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent for a memorial service with full military honors. David Nordin’s ashes will be placed in a wall near the final resting place of his brother, Richard Nordin, Shirley’s late husband.
David Nordin would have been Shirley’s brother-in-law. She met him just once, but knows him through his letters and boyhood stories her husband shared. She and Richard were married in 1955. Richard Nordin, who served in the U.S. Army in Germany, was 86 when he died Aug. 30, 2015.
Richard Nordin and his two sisters had provided DNA samples to the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. He died before his brother’s remains were identified.
“My husband would always say, ‘I wish our kids could have met him.’ But that was not to be,” Shirley Nordin said Thursday at her Lynnwood home. She and her daughters Valerie Rocha, of Edmonds, and Lisa Simpson, of Monroe, plan to bring roses to Friday’s service. Her son, Mark Nordin, lives in California.
David Nordin was part of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. A week ago, the Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that his remains had been identified.
According to the announcement, it was late November 1950 — just days after he wrote that last letter — when Nordin’s unit started moving north along the Kuryong River to establish a position near Unsan, a North Korean town. His unit was part of a large United Nations Command offensive.
When Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces, communist forces that fought in the war, launched a counterattack, Nordin’s regiment was ordered to withdraw to a new defensive line. When it reassembled near Yongbyon, Nordin couldn’t be found. He was reported missing in action Nov. 28, 1950.
Americans returning after the war reported that Nordin died in January 1951 at Hofong Camp, a prison camp in North Korea. The U.S. Army declared him deceased as of Jan. 22, 1951.
Some of the harrowing conditions he faced are described in a document Shirley Nordin has from the 25th Infantry Division: “At some point along the route of retreat, Cpl. Nordin was taken prisoner,” it says, adding that POWs were marched “in sub-freezing temperatures” to temporary camps. “He was one of the 230 U.S. POWs who died in the temporary camps. … Cpl. Nordin died of malnutrition, exposure and pneumonia.”
Shirley Nordin also has his Bronze Star Medal citation. His heroism involved an incident on Sept. 23, 1950, when the machine gun used by his squad failed to fire due to a ruptured cartridge. At the time, his unit was under attack by communist troops using machine guns and mortars. “Despite the withering hostile barrage, he left his position, brought back a new barrel and put the gun into action,” it says.
Nordin knows her brother-in-law was a hero. Hurt multiple times during the war, he was treated for injuries in Japan. “He has three Purple Hearts. Each time, he got sent back to battle,” she said.
In 1954, in what was known as Operation Glory, many Americans’ remains were returned, but not Cpl. Nordin’s. It wasn’t until 2005 that a recovery team conducted the 37th Joint Field Activity in Unsan County, South Pyongan Province, North Korea. On April 19, 2005, the team visited a site where one Korean witness said there were American remains — and that’s where Nordin’s bones were found.
His remains were identified by scientists from the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System. Along with DNA analysis of his siblings’ samples, they looked at anthropological evidence.
Today, 7,778 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the Defense Department. Efforts to identify them continue.
Shirley Nordin and her daughter Valerie made a solemn visit Tuesday to Evergreen Funeral Home in Everett. Before David Nordin was cremated, they saw in his casket a dress uniform and his military honors. When Shirley asked her daughter where the remains were, Valerie told her to put her hand under the uniform. She felt two pieces of bone.
Nordin said an Army sergeant told her earlier that a femur had been found. The leg bone may have been in two pieces, she said Thursday.
Rocha said her father often talked about how close he and his brother were as boys in Southern California. Richard Nordin was a year younger than David. “My dad would tell crazy stories, how they used to go to the beach and dig caves,” Rocha said. “They were good buddies,” Shirley Nordin agreed.
“All these years, I’ve seen people on TV or read where people have lost someone very dear. They just want them home, but really they’re gone,” the Lynnwood woman said. “I understand it now … The most important thing, he’s coming home.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.