Three MIA World War II soldiers finally laid to rest
Army Pfc. Lawrence N. Harris, Cpl. Judge C. Hellums and Pvt. Donald D. Owens were buried in a single casket Wednesday.
July 20th, 2011
03:16 PM ET

Three MIA World War II soldiers finally laid to rest

Three World War II soldiers were finally laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday after almost seven decades missing in action.

The men were buried together in a single casket with full military honors. Their remains were only recently identified through the efforts of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC).

Army Pfc. Lawrence N. Harris of Elkins, West Virginia., Cpl. Judge C. Hellums of Paris, Mississippi, and Pvt. Donald D. Owens of Cleveland were fighting with their unit, the 773rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, on October 9, 1944, during the final battle for control of the Parroy Forest in eastern France, according to the Department of Defense.

All three were killed when their M-10 tank destroyer came under enemy fire.

“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," according to a Department of Defense press release.

Then, in November 1946, a French soldier discovered the M-10 debris and human remains while working in the forest. The American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) took control of the remains, which were buried as unknowns in what is now the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium.

Despite further searches for human remains on behalf of the AGRC, the Parroy Forest was thought to be void of human remains until 2003, when a French citizen exploring the area discovered Hellums’ identification bracelet and more human remains. A JPAC team working in Europe took control of the items in April 2006 and then returned to the site, recovering “more human remains, personal effects, and an identification tag for Owens,” according to the press release.

Years of further research regarding the burials at Ardennes revealed a correlation between the new remains and three unknown soldiers. The bodies were disinterred in 2008. The soldiers were positively identified - using dental records, forensic tools and data from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory - on February 9, 2010.

This identification, like many others, is part of a widespread effort by the Defense Prisoner of War and Mission Personnel Office. Today, more than 72,000 Americans still remain unaccounted for from World War II. The DPMO says on their website that this is simply an extension of the mottos “No one left behind,” “Fulfill their Trust” and “Keeping the Promise,” among others, having identified approximately 7,000 individuals since the end of WWII.

The effort to properly recognize the sacrifices of the identified soldiers does not end there, however. Organizations around the country have similarly dedicated themselves to ensuring a proper military funeral for every U.S. service member, from veterans to the recently identified.

Bugles Across America, for example, was founded in 2000 by Tom Day after congressional legislation stated that all veterans had the right to at least two uniformed military personnel to fold the flag, and to have a recording of taps played.

Day’s organization is committed to taking that promise even further. Volunteer bugle players in all 50 states offer a live rendition of the traditional burial song at every veteran's funeral.

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Filed under: Military
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Chan

    Who Cares: What does your post have to do with this article? These three men gave their lives in the service
    of this country, and they deserve our respect. May they rest in peace.

    July 20, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liz

      Agree with you 100%. God Bless our soldiers and may they rest in peace now. and also there families must be at peace.

      July 21, 2011 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Ditto on the respect for these fine men.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
  2. Roger james

    M10 wolverines had an open topped turret. Unless you killed the enemy tank with your first shot, you were dead.

    July 20, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Choco monster

      What if they missed on their first shot?

      July 20, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. carlos

    in war known wins

    July 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sofía

    This is a wonderful story! Bring them home...

    July 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    @ carlos:
    Did you mean, "no one wins?"
    Perhaps you meant, "none wins.'

    July 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rob

    Thank you for your service and sacrifice, Soldiers. May you rest in peace with your honored brothers in arms.

    July 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Worried Patriot

    II mean no disrespect to these heroes' sacrifice, and I hate to seem crass in the wake of such a lyrical piece. But - at what cost to a financially strapped nation are these organizations (JPAC, DPMO, etc.) maintained? And how many decades will be enough? Will we still be burying bits of bone from WW2 a century from now?

    Finally, after pulling out all the stops to bring these heros home, we had to economize on coffins and put all three together in a single box? Seems like an oddly cramped eternity for heros we spent more than seven decades repatriating.

    July 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • AdmRose

      "JPAC’s operating budget for per year is approximately $48-50 million." – from FAQ's

      As for your next question "JPAC will stay the course with this mission until the job is done." (Same website). I would venture to guess until all remains deemed "recoverable" are recovered or reclassified as "unrecoverable."

      Finally, they didn't "economize" on caskets (coffin is an incorrect term). Most likely is that the bones were scattered together and after positively IDing the soldiers they simply buried them together as there was no way of determining whose bones were whose.

      July 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby Jean Simkins

      How dare you cheapen the sacrifices of POW/MIA by suggesting funds dedicated to their identification and retrieval are ill spent? If not for them, and many thousands of other veterans, money would be the least of your concerns. Worried you may be ..but a Patriot? Hardly.

      July 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. wwsd

    Rest in peace

    July 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Targetshooter

    Chan is right. With a President who takes an expensive vacation every six weeks, and with a lst Lady who spends money as if there is no end to it, and with a Democrat Congress who passed bills that plunged the nation into uknbelievable debt,...... some of you would deny three heroes their own coffins. I smell the aromy of a liberal puke.

    July 20, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      You have no idea of all the president does when he is on "vacation". Shut your ignorant mouth.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. TBreitag

    I mean this with no disrespect at all to the heros of our great nation; however, why only 1 casket? Is this a money saving deal or is it a military tradition?

    July 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andy

      A common occurrence when high explosives meet human flesh. Add in 60 years and it becomes impossible to distinguish the three bodies. The lived and died together, let them rest in peace together. Godspeed.

      July 21, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. 351 comments for Hikers


    351 for the hikers > just as I said > time to have a nation and a real media or not.

    We all remember just how American media handles the housing boom, right?

    "I know that the hypnotised, never lie"


    July 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Name (required)

    Targetshooter, if you remember right, former President Bush spent some 800 days on vacation in the 8 years he was president; a full 25% of his term was spent on vacation.
    And let's NOT get into how he raised the debt ceiling 6 times, and got us into the wars that our draining our deficit to the tune of trillions. You dislike Obama? Fine. But your hate-rhetoric is hypocrisy at it's finest.

    I'm glad these soldiers are finally home.
    Well done!

    July 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Marine5484

    Welcome home men....may you rest in peace with your brothers.

    July 21, 2011 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  14. E5Mouse

    Anyone who serves their country with honor deserves the very best this country can give them! God Bless the U.S.A.

    July 21, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kaedrus

    Oh come one, get these heroes their own damn coffins please.

    July 21, 2011 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
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