Army assists in recovering soldier's remains in France

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DRAGUIGNAN, France — The casketed remains of an unknown World War II soldier are being transported from Draguignan, France to Landstuhl, Germany by the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's U.S. Army Memorial Affairs Activity, Europe as of Aug 4. The remains were disinterred for identification. (Department of Defense photo)

DRAGUIGNAN, France — A team with the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's U.S. Army Memorial Affairs Activity, Europe recovered the identification tag which was affixed to the casket of an unknown World War II soldier at the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, France as of Aug 4. The soldier's casketed remains were disinterred for identification. (Department of Defense photo)

DRAGUIGNAN, France — A four-person team with the 21st Theater Sustainment Command's U.S. Army Memorial Affairs Activity, Europe, recently recovered the soldier's remains at the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial.

More than six decades after giving his life for freedom, an American soldier is on his way home. Jay Bevard, the director of USAMAA-E, explained that the action was requested by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in concurrence with the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army.

The remains are believed to be of a soldier killed during World War II and listed as missing in action since March 1948. He has been interred at the at the Rhone cemetery with his cross-shaped marble headstone reading, "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God."

Now, there seems to be enough evidence to identify him and afford his family closure.

"Every search starts with meticulous, in-depth research. Unit histories and reports, medical and personnel records, correspondence, maps, photographs, etc. from many sources are examined and evaluated by JPAC historians and analysts to gather information about POW/MIAs," Bevard said.

USAMAA-E serves as the lead agent for disinterment actions within American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries in Europe. However, before the disinterment could be scheduled it needed to be coordinated with the director of the Rhone cemetery as well as with a number of French city and government officials.

"This is the first time, we have had a disinterment taking place at an American military cemetery in France and the French, who have a deep connection to our cemetery here, are very interested in what is happening," said Scott Desjardin the director of the Rhone cemetery.

For maximum discretion and because of the scorching heat the disinterment began at daybreak with the gravesite carefully sectioned-off and shielded from curious onlookers.

"This entire mission is quite an experience and very dignified. It is great to see this beautiful WWII cemetery and how well our fallen are taken care of - especially, so many years later," said Army Spc. Brian Crane, a mortuary affairs specialist with USAMAA-E.

After hours of painstakingly cautious excavation work, the remarkably well-preserved casket was unearthed. The tag reading "UNKNOWN X-000870" was carefully removed and inspected by two officials with the French National Police. After the casket had been meticulously brushed off, the policemen sealed it and the USAMAA-E team respectfully draped it with the American flag.

"This was one of the easiest disinterments I've ever done - and I've done hundreds - because the crew, everyone involved was great and the burial was done right," said Bevard while the gleaming and impressive Cadillac hearse was waiting nearby to transport the casketed remains one step closer to home.

The remains were taken to the USAMAA-E facilities in Landstuhl, Germany and will then be shipped to JPAC's central identification laboratory on Hawaii for final analysis.

Then, the unknown soldier will once again become the loved family member and dear friend lost so long ago.

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