Off Beat: Fate leads son of Vancouver soldier killed in WWII to hometown honor

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Mark Mulder was born on Nov. 19, 1944. His father was killed in action in Germany three or four days later.

“He never knew I was born,” Mulder said.

The Vancouver soldier’s remains were never found, and the circumstances of his death were never reported.

Mark Mulder, who flies professionally, has made several side trips while in Europe to honor the memory of Lt. John “Jack” Mulder.

He’s seen his dad’s name on a memorial wall in an American military cemetery in the Netherlands, and he’s pretty sure he’s found the site of his dad’s last battle.

That sentimental journey brought the Texan to Vancouver a week ago. Mulder visited Vancouver Barracks to see his dad’s name on the Clark County Veterans War Memorial.

Although he died in 1944, Lt. John Mulder’s name didn’t go on the county war memorial until 2010. The Columbian told the story on Memorial Day.

That newspaper story brought Mark Mulder here. Actually, it was the story and the death of Mulder’s stepfather, Lyle Specht.

Specht was a Marine officer in the Pacific. He participated in landings at Guadalcanal; Tarawa, where he earned a Silver Star; Saipan, where he earned a Navy Cross; and Okinawa, where he got a Purple Heart after being wounded.

In 1947, Specht married Sybil Mulder, and the family — including young Mark — settled in Tillamook, Ore.

When Specht died two weeks ago, Mark Mulder came up from Grapevine, Texas, for the funeral. He was staying with his ex-wife and her husband in Tillamook. And that was when a friend in Vancouver mailed them a copy of the story about Lt. Jack Mulder.

“It was such a shock when my ex-wife got this. She said, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’”

Two days after Specht’s funeral, Mulder drove to Vancouver Barracks to meet Richard Landis. A former chief of the U.S. Army’s Casualty Operations Center, Landis helped resolve the issues that had kept Lt. Mulder’s name off the Clark County memorial for years.

Three jacks

As he looked at the name engraved in the memorial, Mulder shared some things about his dad.

There are three Jack Mulders in the family, he said, and all three were great basketball players. His dad led Vancouver High to the 1938 Washington title, then played at Oregon State.

In 1964, cousin Jack Mulder helped Parkrose win an Oregon title. Mark’s son Jack was an all-state pick for Tillamook in 1992.

The former Marine fighter pilot also knows a bit about his dad’s last few hours, thanks to a letter written by another soldier.

“It’s from a Lt. Smith, who spent that last night with him,” Mulder said. Under the shelter of a waterproof poncho, “they shared a candy bar and cigarette. Heck of a last meal.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.