Lutheran Military Support Group is a non-profit organization providing Christ-centered support to WELS/ELS military service members, veterans, and their families.

SFC Merlin Heinecke, MIA

Eighty-three Thousand

83,000. In 2017, United Kingdom lawmakers estimated that 83,000 related jobs would be lost if the structure of the euro changed and is forced out of London. 83,000. Imaging experts did a study using 83,000 brains SPECT scans to obtain a better understanding of how to improve brain functions. 83,000 steps are the equivalent of about 39 miles. 83,000. The number of American service personnel still missing in action (MIA) from all past wars and conflicts to date. These soldiers are presumed dead and remain unaccounted for. One of those soldiers was SFC Merlin A. Heinecke.

1949. One of twelve children, Merlin Heinecke joined the U.S. Army on January 6, 1949, at the age of 20. Five months later, Merlin was on his way overseas, leaving his hometown of Allenton, Wisconsin, and the church where he was baptized and confirmed, Zion Lutheran Church (WELS). He was assigned to the Heavy Motor Company, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

Unprepared for the sub-zero temperatures, soldiers resorted to using burlap bags wrapped around their boots for warmth.

1950. SFC Heinecke’s Company was part of a task force to replace a Marine regiment. Late on the evening of November 27th, the unit found themselves trapped in the frozen mountains of North Korea near the Chosin Reservoir. Their leaders were caught off guard by the unforeseen advancement of thousands of Communist Chinese soldiers. The unaware American soldiers were completely surrounded, outnumbered, and at risk of being obliterated. This surprise was compounded by the frigid weather conditions of the North Korean Mountains, where temperatures dropped to -40° with 25-mile-an-hour winds. The subzero weather caused frostbite casualties, icy roads, and weapon malfunctions. [1]“The experiences of the American soldiers who fought and died in the frigid cold of the Chosinarea proved to be some of the most harrowing and tragic in the history of the U.S. Army.


Frozen conditions impaired the soldiers movements.

Two days into this battle, there were an overwhelming number of casualties. The 31st and 32nd infantries saw the need to pull back. This sadly drew even more casualties, including their two ranking commanders, leaving junior officers without battle plans in charge and the troops vulnerable. By the afternoon of December 2, 1950, the units were on the move, leaving their vehicles and attempting to escape over the frozen reservoir. It was during this time that SFC Merlin A. Heinecke was lost.  In the end, 30,000 United Nations troops were encircled and attacked for 17 days by approximately 120,000 Chinese troops. Over 17,000 UN forces were killed, wounded, missing in action, or later died from their wounds.

2016. While preparing for Zion Lutheran Church’s 150th Anniversary, member Bea Pamperin realized that Merlin had no cemetery marker.

The church council was asked if they would erect a marker. After approval, an application was sent to the VA for a bronze marker. Approval proved difficult as Merlin’s name had already been listed on the Honolulu Memorial in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Some time later at a local American Legion meeting, a member of the congregation mentioned their plight to Wally Kohler, Merlin’s boyhood friend and husband of Merlin’s sister, Arlene. As a family member and a veteran himself, he, too, was interested in what Zion was planning. The Kohler family graciously added to the funds already received from the November 2017 Lutheran Military Support Group’s offering at Zion for Merlin’s marker.

2018. Now with a family member who could sign the VA application, the process of obtaining a bronze VA memorial plaque began again. Within three weeks, the bronze plaque had been sent to the monument company! A service is being planned for Memorial Day weekend. The marker will be placed in “The Children’s Row” adjacent to the markers for two of Merlin’s brothers who died in infancy.

Merlin (center) and two of his fellow servicemen.

83,000 men and women were created by God. 83,000 of who Christ gave His life. Merlin was 1 of the 83,000 baptized children of God and was brought up in the faith. He knew, by faith, that he was saved. What a comfort that must have been for his family, friends, and acquaintances. There is no way to know about the faith of the other 82,999 and how many of them shared the saving faith like Merlin. We will not know the eternal fate of the MIA’s this side of heaven. Let us pray, that with the help of God we can, share the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who have not heard; military and civilian. [2] “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through the Word of Christ.”

Written by: Stephanie L. Wentzlaff
Former LMSG (Lutheran Military Support Group) Communications Director
Wife of Rev. Larry Wentzlaff, Member of Peace Lutheran Church (ELS), North Mankato, MN


“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21

On Sunday, May 27, 2018, as part of the Memorial Day observation, Merlin’s service and ultimate sacrifice was marked with the placement of a monument stone in the cemetery with a bronze military plaque.

The stone was funded by members of the Heinecke family, Lutheran Military Support Group, and Zion Ev. Lutheran Church.


‘On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.’


An official honor guard presentation, which includes a flag presentation is only possible when there are remains. Because Merlin was MIA and his remains were never identified and returned, he was not eligible for the official presentation and flag.

The flag used today was initially used approximately six years ago for a Korean-era veteran, who also served in the Army. Recently, at the time of this Korean veteran’s wife’s funeral, the flag was brought to the Mhyrum Patton funeral home; the survivors asked that it be donated for an appropriate purpose. It has been flown over the white house. When the surviving nephews (one of whom is military) were told about today’s observance, they graciously and anonymously agreed to donate the flag for today’s flag ceremony.

A letter was written by Merlin in September of 1950, while he was in Korea.
Dear Harry and all,
How are youse getting along yet? Sorry I didn’t write for such a long time. I just haven’t anything to do this morning, so I thought I would write. I am writing this in a schoolhouse somewhere in Korea. We have been here for two days. I think we move up again today. Usually, we only stay in a place one day and move at night. There sure are enough hills over here. So far the weather has been pretty nice. Some of the towns around here are really burned out. The other day got hold of two bottles of whiskey. I still have one bottle left. That’s something that’s pretty hard to get ahold of here. Can’t find any beer around here. How are the kids getting along yet? So far I’ve captured 4 prisoners. They ain’t too hard to catch. How is Lester getting along yet? The Sun is really warm this morning. At night It gets pretty cold. Some of the guy really got short haircuts. They are bald. They sure get enough knots on their head. This is one of the best schoolhouses I’ve seen in the far east. Yesterday was the first time I’ve shaved in about two weeks. Usually, there isn’t much time for that anyhow. This is the first break we have had. Them dam North Korean are starting to dress in G.I. clothes. You can’t tell them apart from the South Koreans.
[1] Seelinger, Matthew J. “Nightmare at the Chosin Reservoir.” The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army, 20 January 2015,
[2] Rom. 10:17 Evangelical Heritage Version. Northwestern Publishing House, 2017.

Written by Stephanie Wentzlaff, US Army Veteran, Peace Lutheran Church, North Mankato, MN