The remains of a Marine veteran who disappeared while fighting in Ukraine in April 2022 and was declared dead a year later will be returned to his family Friday.
The Weatherman Foundation, an organization focused on protecting children, democracy and human rights globally, spent months tracking down the remains of retired Marine Capt. Grady Kurpasi, 50, according to co-founder Andrew Duncan.
A network of Weatherman-funded operators and investigators in Ukraine searched for Kurpasi’s burial plot, ultimately confirming its location with the aid of a drone, Duncan said.
“There is an unspoken bond between those who serve in uniform — if you give your life in combat, your fellow Americans will bear any burden to bring you home,” Meaghan Mobbs, the foundation’s president and an Army veteran, said in the Weatherman news release.
More than a year after Kurpasi disappeared in southern Ukraine, his remains will be flown on Friday into New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. That’s the same airport that Kurpasi flew into as an infant getting adopted from Korea, according to Duncan.
Kurpasi enlisted in the Marine Corps as a 29-year-old after the 9/11 attacks, a Weatherman news release stated. An infantry assaultman who ultimately became a scout sniper, he deployed three times to Iraq.
Kurpasi attended UCLA through an enlisted-to-officer commissioning program and received a prestigious Pat Tillman Foundation scholarship, awarded to service members, veterans and military spouses. He became an infantry officer, according to a GoFundMe fundraiser set up for his family, and retired in September 2021.
His awards included the Good Conduct Medal three times, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal three times, the Purple Heart Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, among other awards, CNN reported.
Kurpasi arrived in Ukraine in February 2022 to train soldiers and help with evacuations, according to a Weatherman news release Wednesday. Motivated by the atrocities he witnessed, he decided to remain in the country and fight as part of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, the release stated.
He was last seen on April 26, 2022, when he went with British citizen Andrew Hill, a to investigate the source of gunfire, The Washington Post reported. They radioed to their team that they were under fire.
In July 2022, The Washington Post reported that Kurpasi’s wife and friends were frustrated with what they saw as a lack of urgency by the State Department in investigating the disappearance.
The Weatherman Foundation became involved in trying to find Kurpasi in August 2022, according to Duncan. The Marine vet’s disappearance hit home for Mobbs, in large part because she is a fellow Tillman scholar.
After the foundation conducted online research and identified sites where Kurpasi may have been ambushed, the case went cold in December, according to Duncan.
In January, however, Mobbs and her father — who happens to be retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg — met with an American veteran serving in Ukraine in a safehouse in Kharki, Duncan stated. That veteran mentioned to Mobbs a few days later via encrypted message that he had the coordinates of where Kurpasi may have been buried.
In the next few months, the Weatherman Foundation coordinated and funded efforts to find Kurpasi’s remains.
Using a drone, a Weatherman-funded team on April 4 found an apparent burial site near Stanislav, in the Kherson Oblast. Investigators found that there was equipment with Kurpasi’s name plate and clothing consistent with his last known outfit, according to Duncan.
A DNA test confirmed the following day that the remains buried there belonged to Kurpasi, according to Duncan. The foundation notified Kurpasi’s widow that day.
The State Department confirmed Kurpasi’s death in an April 12 statement to Marine Corps Times.
There are now at least five Marine veterans, including Kurpasi, who have died volunteering in Ukraine.
Cooper “Harris” Andrews, 26, was killed in April; his mother told CNN that he was hit by a mortar, likely while helping civilians evacuate Bakhmut, Ukraine.
Former Cpl. Pete Reed, 33, was killed in February in Bakhmut, Ukraine, reportedly while administering medical aid to civilians.
Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, was killed in April 2022. He was the first known death of a U.S. citizen fighting in Ukraine.
Kurpasi’s remains were moved to the Ukrainian city of Odessa, then to Moldova, Turkey and finally to the United States, Duncan said. After a brief ceremony at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday evening, a private jet will transport the remains to his family in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Kurpasi is survived not only by his wife but also by his 14-year-old daughter, according to the GoFundMe set up for his family.
“Our family is deeply grateful to the Weatherman Foundation for their tireless efforts to find our beloved Grady’s remains and to bring him home to us,” Heeson Kim, Kurpasi’s wife, said in the Weatherman news release.
Duncan emphasized to Marine Corps Times that Kurpasi, already a Purple Heart recipient, gave his life to protect the children of Ukraine from the violence wrought upon them by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It’s humbling, and it’s the honor of a lifetime, to help his family bring his remains home,” Duncan told Marine Corps Times. “He is the definition of a great American.”
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.