A fallen Cougar has finally made his way home.

Capt. Donald Harvey Froemke (’38 Forestry) was killed in the Netherlands during World War II while taking part in Operation Market Garden, an Allied military operation aiming to liberate Holland and create an invasion route into northern Germany. His division encountered greater German forces than expected during the maneuver, which was also slowed by marshy conditions. Froemke was near the village of Opheusden when his unit was attacked on October 5, 1944.

Framed sepia photo of US soldier in World War II uniform
Framed photo of Captain Donald Harvey Froemke (Courtesy Tomas D’anella/NBC Tri-Cities)

“According to all of the sources I found, Captain Froemke was moving across an open field to aid a wounded man” when he was killed by enemy fire, says J. T. Menard (’15, ’19 MA History), who researched Froemke’s life and death as part of the Fallen Cougars Project at Washington State University. “The Germans overran the village he was defending. His body could not be recovered at the time.”

He was 31.

Five years later, in 1949, remains believed to be Froemke’s were sent to his family. Nearly eight decades after his death, his remaining relatives learned the family had buried someone else.

In August 2022, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified Froemke’s actual remains in Holland. The captain was finally laid to rest September 9, 2023, in Yakima’s Tahoma Cemetery, following a graveside service.

Menard attended the burial, where he met Froemke’s niece, Ellen Holloway of Cle Elum. “She invited me to her house to view all of the documentation, the family letters, and everything that was unavailable to me before,” says Menard, who teaches history at Heritage University in Toppenish. He updated Froemke’s report, originally prepared by Jenna Reynolds (’21 Anthro.), for the Fallen Cougars Project.

Led by associate professor of history Raymond “Ray” Sun, the project commemorates the approximately 250 military personnel with ties to WSU who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II. The small cohort of history faculty and students is compiling the stories of the men and women who didn’t make it back, for an online memorial. Froemke’s report is slated for publication on the website later this spring. Nearly 200 have been researched so far.

The Fallen Cougars Project seeks to restore the humanity of Washington State’s World War II war dead,” Sun says. “By telling their life stories in a digital format, we transform them from being names on a bronze plaque to individuals with their unique backgrounds, experiences, talents, and interests. They once were part of our Washington State community. As has been literally accomplished with Capt. Froemke, we hope to bring them all home in a virtual manner and allow our students, staff, and faculty to pay their respects and welcome them back to the Cougar Nation.”

Froemke was 28 when he enlisted in the US Army in March 1941. “My initial impression [of Froemke] was feelings of deep respect and reverence,” says Menard, who has worked on the Fallen Cougars Project for two years, contributing around a dozen histories. Last year, he focused solely on Froemke, who was assigned to Company B of the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion of the famed 101st Airborne Division.

Froemke’s first combat experience: the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He was promoted to captain the next month. One day shy of four months after D-Day, he disappeared. Ten days later, he would have turned 32.

“Ellen told me the death of her uncle really reverberated through the generations of her family,” Menard says. “Her grandparents were devastated. Her grandmother died really young, in 1946. Did grief play a role? Perhaps. Donald didn’t survive, but his brother did, and he didn’t talk about it. Survivor’s guilt? Maybe.

“War has a way of making people statistics. If there’s anything studying war makes me do, it’s to wish more and more for peace. A lot of people say World War II was a good war. I don’t know if I believe in good wars. Necessary wars? Certainly. But I struggle to label any war ‘good’ after seeing the individual traumas that occur in every person who serves, whether the wounds are physical or mental or both, and the impacts on different generations of their families.”

Froemke was born October 15, 1912, to Henry and Emma Froemke in southwest Washington and moved to Yakima at a young age. His family included a younger brother, Virgil, Holloway’s father, who also served in World War II.

Froemke went to Washington State College in 1931, where he was a member of the Montezuma Club for residents of Stimson Hall. The 1936 Chinook shows him in a sweater and tie, sitting in the front row of a group photo of basketball managers, responsible for “handling the team’s equipment and for preparing the gymnasium for home games.”

He worked as a range manager for the US Forest Service before enlisting. At the time he joined the army, he was living in McCall Valley, Idaho. He never married and had no children.

“I’ve researched a fair number of Fallen Cougars,” Menard says. “You see them in their high school yearbooks. You see them in the Chinook. They’re just kids. You think of the potential they had. You think: What life could they have lived if they had not given their life in service to their country? It’s noble. It’s valiant. I honor and respect that sacrifice. But there’s that what if.”

Soldiers like Froemke “were remembered by their parents and brothers and sisters,” Menard says. “But now those parents and brothers and sisters are mostly all gone. All that’s left are nieces and nephews and cousins.

“They didn’t get to tell their stories because they didn’t make it home. That’s the importance of the Fallen Cougars Project: Making sure they are memorialized and remembered, not just for dying in service but for the life they lived before they became soldiers.”

Froemke posthumously received a Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, and European campaign medal. He also received a Presidential Unit Citation as part of the 101st Airborne.

In correspondence with Froemke’s family after the captain died, WSC president E. O. Holland described him as “a fine college citizen and a young man of superior ability who was eager to make his contribution to society.”

Last September, Holloway told the Yakima Herald-Republic, “We’re glad he’s finally home.”


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