Family remembers Nebraska soldier, identified 72 years after death in Korean War

A Korean War Veteran from Omaha died as a prisoner of war in the early 1950s. 72 years later, he's been identified and will be laid to rest.
Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 11:17 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Ted Kostken was still at Omaha North High School in the late 1940s when his uncle, Jim Dorrance, just four years his senior and the first among his buds to get a motor scooter, enlisted in the army.

“My mom got a lot of letters from him and was always reading them,” Kostken reminisced. “He was on a half-track, the first one he lost in the battle and then went back, got another one. He had a 50 millimeter mounted on it.”

But soon, newsreels would scream the start of the war in Korea: “On June 25th, 1950, the communist forces from the North struck without warning...”

Despite losing three fingers in a woodworking accident at one of his first posts, Sgt. 1st Class James L. Dorrance deployed with the 2nd Infantry Division of the 8th U.S. Army.

A little more than five months later, on December 1, 1950, the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River had been devastating to the U.S. Army, and he and hundreds of his fellow soldiers found themselves withdrawing from Kuni-ri.

“They were the remaining troops, the remaining company defending withdrawal and they got surrounded by Chinese [forces],” Ted said.

“They didn’t have a chance,” Ted’s wife Donna said.

“So they got overran and that’s when he was captured,” Ted said. “They put him in [Prisoner of War Camp #5], he got pneumonia, it was starvation and malnutrition, and he died and there were two servicemen that survived and come back and they established the date of his death by when they buried him.”

That was March 17, 1951, and the remains of the 20-year-old, along with thousands of others, were buried in North Korea as unknowns.

A staggering number of remains were finally returned in 1954 during Operation Glory, but according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Dorrance’s name didn’t appear on the transfer rosters.

In 2019, as part of the painstaking efforts of the DPAA to identify all remains, the nearly intact remains of Korean War Unknown X-14402 were sent to the DPAA laboratory in Hawaii for analysis.

The lab is one of two such facilities in the U.S., the other at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

On May 22, 2023, through teeth, extracted DNA, and forensics analysis, the remains were determined to be that of James L. Dorrance.

“When you look at the herculean task that they have to do, the anthropology and the forensic science tests and the fact they had to rely on letters even to really identify,” retired Lieutenant Colonel Michael DeBolt said. “Because, I mean, sure, they had bones, but to match those bones with a name? That is remarkable what they had to do to bring peace to a family.”

DeBolt works on behalf of POW/MIAs, sounding the call to remember those missing and unaccounted for and bring them home.

“It means a lot to a service member to know that we will never, ever leave a fellow service member behind. and more than that, what it means to the family,” DeBolt said. “It’s sad that his mom and dad aren’t here to see that, but to his relatives, to his nephew, and to all Americans, it means a lot.”

Jim’s nephew is 88 now. Ted’s uncle and hero, Sgt. 1st Class Dorrance, finally accounted for, would be 92.

And soon, what matters most to any family, they’ll be able to say 72 years later:

“He’s home.”

6 News received a call with information on Dorrance’s funeral services.

The ceremony will be held at Roeder Mortuaries on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 10 a.m. and will include full military honors, followed by burial at Forest Lawn, at the direction of the family.