Missing World War II Soldiers Identified

The Depart­ment of Defense POW/Missing Per­son­nel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of three ser­vice­men, miss­ing in action from World War II, have been iden­ti­fied and are being returned to their fam­i­lies for bur­ial with full mil­i­tary hon­ors.

Army Pfc. Lawrence N. Har­ris, of Elkins, W.V., Cpl. Judge C. Hel­lums, of Paris, Miss., and Pvt. Don­ald D. Owens, of Cleve­land, will be buried as a group, in a sin­gle cas­ket, on July 20 in Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery. In late Sep­tem­ber 1944, their unit, the 773rd Tank Bat­tal­ion, was fight­ing its way east to France’s east­ern bor­der, clear­ing Ger­man forces out of the Par­roy For­est near Lunéville. On Oct. 9, 1944, in the final bat­tle for con­trol of the region, Hel­lums, Har­ris, Owens and two oth­er sol­diers were attacked by ene­my fire in their M‑10 Tank Destroy­er. Two men sur­vived with seri­ous injuries but Har­ris, Hel­lums and Owens were report­ed to have been killed. Evi­dence at the time indi­cat­ed the remains of the men had been destroyed in the attack and were nei­ther recov­ered nor buried near the loca­tion.

In Novem­ber 1946, a French sol­dier work­ing in the Par­roy For­est found debris asso­ci­at­ed with an M‑10 vehi­cle and human remains, which were turned over to the Amer­i­can Graves Reg­is­tra­tion Com­mand. The remains were buried as unknowns in what is now known as the Ardennes Amer­i­can Ceme­tery in Bel­gium. A year lat­er the AGRC returned to the Par­roy For­est to con­duct inter­views and search for addi­tion­al remains. Inves­ti­ga­tors not­ed at that time that all remains of U.S. sol­diers had report­ed­ly been removed in the last two years and that the crew was like­ly buried else­where as unknowns.

In 2003, a French cit­i­zen explor­ing the Par­roy For­est dis­cov­ered human remains and an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion bracelet engraved with Hel­lums’ name, from a site he had probed occa­sion­al­ly since 1998. The infor­ma­tion was even­tu­al­ly sent to the Joint POW/MIA Account­ing Com­mand (JPAC). In April 2006, the man turned over the items to a JPAC team work­ing in Europe. A few months lat­er a sec­ond JPAC team returned to the site and recov­ered more human remains, per­son­al effects and an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tag for Owens.

His­to­ri­ans at DPMO and JPAC con­tin­ued their research on the buri­als at the Ardennes Ceme­tery, and drew a cor­re­la­tion to those unknowns removed from the 1944 bat­tle site. In ear­ly 2008 JPAC dis­in­terred these remains and began their foren­sic review.

Among oth­er foren­sic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tools and cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence, sci­en­tists from JPAC used den­tal com­par­isons for the men and the Armed Forces DNA Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Lab­o­ra­to­ry used mito­chon­dr­i­al DNA, which matched that of each soldier’s rel­a­tives in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of their remains.

At the end of the war, the U.S. gov­ern­ment was unable to recov­er, iden­ti­fy and bury approx­i­mate­ly 79,000 Amer­i­cans. Today, more than 72,000 remain unac­count­ed-for from the con­flict.

For addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion on the Defense Department’s mis­sion to account for miss­ing Amer­i­cans, call 571–422-9059 or vis­it the DPMO web­site at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo .

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)