MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - It took decades for the family of Private First Class Charles Follese to find out what happened to him in Korea. And it took years more for him to finally come home.
Tuesday, Follese was laid to rest at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
“The family is a large family, and they’re very well spread out,” said Michael Follese, a nephew and family historian. “The Army paid for their way to be a part of this, and memories that start to flood from their time with Charles, even though it was only a short 20 years. Charles was a larger than life personality.”
Michael Follese worked with the Army for years to find out what happened to his uncle, who was one of 15 siblings. He was from Minneapolis.
“This family - it was such a tragic loss to them at the time - they never really much talked about it, they kept to themselves, because it left such an emotional gaping hole for them,” Follese said.
Follese discovered his uncle was part of a reconnaissance mission in November 1950 in what is now North Korea.
“They sent me a whole packet of information on how he was ambushed, retrieving soldiers that were killed in an ambush the day before,” Follese said. “That was again, above the 38th Parallel, and being that he was ambushed himself, they didn't bother to go back to that spot.”
More than 40 years later, the North Korean government returned 200 boxes of human remains to the United States. Research teams found documents that indicated the remains were from the area where Follese was believed to have died. But, it took two more decades for Follese’s remains to be positively identified through laboratory analysis and circumstantial evidence.
“We won't stop until everybody is identified. So as technology changes, it's becoming easier and easier to identify our fallen service members,” said Brigadier General Jon Jensen, who attended the service. “Bringing them home is very important.”
Brig. Gen. Jensen said he was honored to present the colors to the family, including Charles Follese’s older brother Sig, who is a World War II veteran.
“He was the big brother to many of them, and he was the little brother to his oldest brother, Sig,” Michael Follese said. “Those two were this tight, one looked out after the other.”
The Department of Defense estimates there are more than 7,700 Americans who served in the Korean War who remain unaccounted for. The story of Charles Follese gives those families hope that one day their loved one will come home, too.