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After 66 years, Korean War POW from Seattle finally is coming home

The body of Harold Sparks, who was a 21-year-old sergeant when he died in North Korea, will return Monday to Tacoma.
The body of Harold Sparks, who was a 21-year-old sergeant when he died in North Korea, will return Monday to Tacoma. Courtesy

Lois Ahrens held out hope that she’d see her younger brother laid to rest on American soil long after he went missing in a North Korean prison camp.

Her patience will be rewarded next week when the soldier from Seattle receives a long-overdue burial at the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.

The remains of Sgt. Harold Sparks, forever 21, are due to return to the Puget Sound region Monday, almost 66 years after he was taken prisoner by Chinese forces north of Pyongyang early in the Korean War.

“Mom never gave up hope that her brother would be returned home. It was just a matter of when,” said Lois Ahrens’ son and Sparks’ nephew, Jim Ahrens of University Place.

The remains of Sgt. Sparks were identified by the Defense Department Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency earlier this year. The Pentagon found him among 208 boxes of commingled human remains that North Korea gave to the Defense Department in the early 1990s.

Only recently, the Defense Department matched DNA in the boxes with genetic material submitted by four of Sparks’ relatives and descendants.

He’ll come home Monday from the lab in Hawaii where the Defense Department studies the remains of unidentified casualties from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Lois Ahrens, 88, will be at Sea-Tac Airport to see his return.

“She’s very grateful,” said Jim Ahrens, 63.

Sparks reportedly was taken prisoner in November 1950 by Chinese troops who reinforced the North Korean army during the war. He served in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division.

His family had no idea what happened to him for several years.

In 1953, five American prisoners of war released by the North Korean military reported that Sparks had been held at a POW camp and that he died there.

Sparks had two older sisters. One, Barbara, has passed away. Lois Ahrens of Seattle carried on his memory and took her children to Defense Department events at which officials gave updates on the search for the almost 8,000 troops who remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.

Jim Ahrens said he started attending those ceremonies about eight years ago. He went to support his mom, not thinking the military would actually recover his uncle’s remains.

“It’s amazing,” Jim Ahrens said. “I’m grateful to the citizens of the United Sates and the military that we’re not leaving anybody behind.”

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