LETCHER COUNTY, Ky. — A southeastern Kentucky soldier was laid to rest in his hometown of Whitesburg after fighting in the Korean War.

Army Corporal Donald L. Menken went unaccounted for nearly 70 years. The family went through mixed emotions over the years, but they now have closure. 

“I’m extremely pleased that he’s coming home,” said Combs.

What You Need To Know

  • Army Corporal Donald L. Menken was 19 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army

  • The fallen Korean War vet is survived by his sister, nephew and niece 

  • Fulton Combs is the nephew of Army Cpl. Menken

  • Combs grew up with Army Cpl. Menken and they treated each other like brothers

Those are the words Fulton Combs said after it was confirmed his uncle would return to the place they grew up in. The two are 11 years apart, and grew up in Appalachian southeastern Kentucky.

Combs said they’d play in the creek and do what boys do until Donald L. Menken enlisted in the U.S. Army. His uncle would be known as Cpl. Menken from that point on.

A photo of Cpl. Donald L. Menken as a child. (Spectrum News 1/Diamond Palmer)

Tragically, two years after Army Cpl. Menken enlisted, he died at 21 years old while guarding Outpost Harry near Seoul, which is now considered a demilitarized zone. Army Cpl. Menken was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division.

The Menken family finally has the closure they’ve been waiting for. Army Cpl. Menken is back home in Whitesburg after 70 years.

But Saturday was tough for Combs, as the two were practically joined at the hip.

“We ate together, slept together, everything,” Combs said. “He was not only an uncle but a good friend and a mentor as a big brother would be.”

Combs remembers missing his uncle. He would often write letters to his family. It’s something he did just days before his death.

“When he left for the Army, it was a very lonely time for us. And then when we found out later that he was missing in action, we were extremely concerned,” said Combs.

Members of the U.S. Army stand together at funeral services for Army Cpl. Donald L. Menken in Ermine, Ky. (Spectrum News 1/Diamond Palmer)

The uncle that Combs knew and loved was killed on June 11, 1954, while guarding what is now a demilitarized zone. It wasn’t until February 2022 that Army Cpl. Menken was accounted for using dental records and DNA.

It was a part of a special project that included historians and anthropologists with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to identify the 652 Korean War unknown burials from the Punchbowl (National Memorial Cemetery of Pacific in Honolulu).

“That meant a lot to us. For us to be able to do this for him now is very little to give for what he has suffered and gone through,” said Combs.

On May 14, 2022, Army Cpl. Menken earned full military honors as he was laid to rest in Ermine at Green Acres Cemetery.

Nearly 7,500 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War, according to the U.S. Army Human Resources Command—which means the Menken family is just one of the few with closure. 

Ultimately, the family says they wouldn’t be at peace without Army Cpl. Menken’s military brothers and sisters. For more information on Army Cpl. Menken, click here.