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Nearly 70 years after he went missing in the Korean War, a Maryland soldier’s remains are identified

The remains of an American soldier killed in combat during the first month of the Korean War were recently identified as those of Army Cpl. Donald E. Angle, of Clear Spring, in Washington County, Maryland.
The remains of an American soldier killed in combat during the first month of the Korean War were recently identified as those of Army Cpl. Donald E. Angle, of Clear Spring, in Washington County, Maryland. (Department of Defense / Baltimore Sun)

On a summer day in 1948, Donald Angle traveled from his family’s home in the small town of Clear Spring, in Washington County, to the Hagerstown City Hall to join the Army. He was 19 years old, and, remarkably, one of 57 young men who decided to enlist at the local recruiting station during the first two weeks of that long-ago July.

In the first years after World War II, the Army continued recruitment efforts to meet what it deemed necessary troop levels. For a while, it met its goals with volunteers. But, in 1947, enlistments started to fall off. That prompted Congress, with the onset of the Cold War, to reinstate the military draft in 1948. A month later, Donald Angle and 56 others went to Hagerstown to enlist.

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Many enlistees of that period had older brothers and uncles who had volunteered in World War II, and now they, too, wanted to serve the country. Some believed enlistment would provide advantages over being drafted, though that did not apparently explain the surge at Hagerstown that summer.

“Recruiting officials say they are unable to explain the phenomenal boom in enlistments since the passage of the draft law,” the Morning Herald in Hagerstown reported on July 14, 1948. “Only five of the 57 said the draft had influenced them to enlist.”

Whatever motivated Donald Angle to join the Army — a patriotic desire to serve, the appeal of the military, a recruiter’s influence or promises — he went to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training. By the winter of 1950, he was a private in the Eighth Army, stationed in Japan.

The next time his name appeared in a Hagerstown newspaper, it was to note his commendation as “soldier of the week for his unit.” Angle was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, and, according to The Daily Mail, Hagerstown’s afternoon newspaper at the time, his commanding officer in Takeyama had awarded him a three-day pass for “neatness in appearance, cleanliness of weapons and performance of duty.”

A few months later, war broke out on the Korean peninsula, and the 5th Cavalry ended up in the thick of the early fighting. Troops from North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. Army units of the Republic of Korea were overwhelmed; the invaders from the North were in Seoul within three days. Limited, inexperienced and under-equipped American units were sent from Japan to help. Within a few weeks, Donald Angle, by then a 21-year-old corporal, was with the 5th Cavalry at a place called Yongdong.

A battle there between Americans and North Koreans, midst fleeing South Korean civilians, went on for three days, with heavy casualties on both sides. Histories of the 5th Cavalry describe North Koreans directing artillery and mortar fire on American defensive positions around Yongdong, and then swarming them. Donald Angle’s 1st Battalion moved in to help, but faced fierce attacks. Some companies were “hit by overwhelming numbers of North Korean infantry,” according to a 5th Cavalry history by William Boudreau. An Army historian says the 5th Cavalry suffered 275 casualties on July 25.

That was the day Donald Angle went missing — exactly one month after the outbreak of the Korean War.

The Army at first listed him as wounded. His family, unaware that he had been sent to Korea, received that notice in August. According to the Morning Herald, 17 soldiers from Washington County had been reported killed or wounded in the first two months of the war.

It was not until the following January that the Department of Defense officially listed Donald Angle as missing in action. In January 1954, six months after the armistice that ended the Korean War, Angle was officially presumed dead. His body was not recovered.

But, according to the Army, in February 1951, an American search and recovery team had found a partial set of remains on a hill less than a mile from Yongdong. The team marked the remains as “Unknown X-485 Tanggok.” In June 1955, the remains were declared unidentifiable and buried in Honolulu at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl. The grave was marked as an unknown.

Two years ago, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii disinterred X-485 Tanggok and sent the remains for comparison with two other missing soldiers from the area of Yongdong.

“Scientists from DPAA used dental, anthropological and chest radiograph comparison analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence,” the Army says. The DPAA concluded that the remains were those of Donald Angle. The corporal was officially accounted for on July 2 — 69 years after he went missing.

“Today, 7,628 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War,” the Army said in announcing the latest of DPAA’s successful identifications. “Using modern technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously returned by Korean officials, recovered from Korea by American teams or disinterred from unknown graves. Angle's name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl along with others who are missing from the Korean War. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.”

Charles Angle, the corporal’s brother, said, “We are grateful we have come to this point,” but he declined to comment further until after Donald Angle’s burial at Welsh Run, Pa. next month.

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