Emotional homecoming as Racine veteran's remains return home on Honor Flight

MILWAUKEE - A Racine veteran's remains were returned to his family after he went missing 67 years ago.  

It was an emotional homecoming Thursday at General Mitchell International Airport as the family finally welcomed home Cpl. Donald Baer, who returned to Wisconsin on an Honor Flight. The reunion was something loved one's never expected to witness.

"It's just amazing.  Didn't think this was gonna happen," said Janet Baril, his sister.

Baer went missing in South Korea in 1950.  He was declared dead three years later. He was one of 13 kids.  His sister Baril lead the search for the last 17 years.

"I just kept thinking of my father and how happy he would be," Baril said.

Baer enlisted in the army in Racine at 18. The military identified the decorated soldier by comparing a chest x-ray taken in 1948 to the clavicle bones in his remains.  

"It's just a piece of your family of your story coming back, just really special," said Debbie Fix, Baer's niece.

Baer was one of more than 800 unidentified American Soldiers after the Korean War, called the X-Files.  Baer was buried in the Punchbowl.

"It's great to have him back home where he can be next to his family," said Alan Baer Jr., Baer's great nephew.

Baer's other great-nephew Tech Sgt. Daniel Knautz traveled with the casket from Hawaii to Milwaukee.

"It's an honor to bring him home," Knautz said. 

Knautz said he's humbled by this experience.

"I never lost faith.  When I was about five-years-old I remember seeing a picture of him on the wall and I asked my grandmother who that was.  She said it was her brother who was lost in the Korean battle and who knew that 26 years later I'd be bringing him home," Knautz said.

It was a day to remember for a family who never stopped looking.

"It's just a really good feeling knowing that he's home," Fix said. 

There will be a service for Baer Saturday, Veterans Day at West Lawn Memorial Park in Racine at 1 p.m.  Baer will be laid to rest between his father and older brother.

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