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Thanks to DNA, Hawkins WWII soldier MIA since 1944 will be returned to Rogersville

Jeff Bobo • Nov 15, 2018 at 9:20 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Nov. 6 marked the 74th anniversary of the day Pfc. Lewis E. Price was reported missing in action in Germany during World War II, but that will be the last anniversary the Hawkins County native spends on foreign soil.

A recent DNA analysis matching remains located near the town of Hürtgen, Germany, with Price’s surviving niece and nephews in Hawkins and Grainger counties has confirmed those remains to be Price.

As a result, the family has requested that the remains be returned to Hawkins County, where a military funeral is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. in Highland Cemetery in Rogersville.

Price’s family was informed in May of 1945 that he had been reported missing in action in Germany on Nov. 6, 1944, and he was officially declared dead a year later.

His family never knew what happened to him and always held out hope he may have survived. His parents, wife, siblings and son all passed away without having their questions answered.

In 2015, the Times News reported on a program in the Netherlands in which an organization was attempting to acquire photos to match with names on a wall memorializing WWII veterans who were MIA, including Price.

As a result of that article, three members of Price’s family were identified by the Army and subsequently asked to submit DNA samples, which the Army successfully matched. 

For the preceding 74 years, however, the circumstances of Price’s death and the location of his remains were unknown to his family, including nephews Leon Elkins of Morristown and Gene Price of Rogersville; and niece Carolyn Carroll of Bean Station.

The story of Pfc. Lewis Price

Price entered the Army at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga,. on Nov. 25, 1942. During World War II, he served in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division in the European Theater.

He disappeared during the intense period of combat on Nov. 6, 1944. Army documents note that he was part of a reconnaissance patrol that failed to return from a mission a half-mile southwest of the town of Hürtgen when he was among three platoons that entered a minefield.

Due to the chaos of the fighting in the thick woods, many Army officials could not keep a full accounting of frontline infantrymen, so there were few details about how and where Price was killed.

Administrative officials listed him as MIA as of Nov. 6 1944, and the Army never received additional details of his loss or recovered his remains. Nor did German forces report him as a prisoner. With no indication that Price had survived the fighting, the War Department issued a presumptive finding of death on Nov. 7, 1945.

On Dec. 8 1950, having received no further evidence that could lead to the recovery of Price’s remains, a board of officers recommended that his remains — and those of 161 other individuals missing from combat in and around the Hürtgen Forest — be declared non-recoverable.

DNA test requested by another family

Price was buried in an unknown soldier’s grave in a military cemetery in Germany, and his remains were identified as X-2736 Neuville.

In 2015, a family member of another MIA soldier of the 109th Infantry Regiment missing from combat in the Hürtgen Forest requested that the remains marked as X-2736 Neuville be tested for DNA.

Although X-2736 Neuville failed to be a match for the family that made the request, they were matched to the DNA of Price’s niece and two nephews.

Army describes Pfc. Price’s last day

The Army describes the day he was went missing as follows: “Part of the Company E battle line was so close to the Germans on the other side of the road — separated by landmines — that the opposing soldiers traded insults. While the Company E men were dug in well and somewhat protected from German infantry attacks due to the landmines around them, enemy artillery continuously bombarded their position. According to surviving members of the company, the 1st, 3rd, and the weapons platoon suffered, on the average, 12 men per day lost from the artillery and mortars.”

The report further states, “By the end of November 1944, several hundred American and German troops had been killed and wounded in the woods southwest of the town of Hürtgen. As American units eventually secured the area in early December, many of the fallen still on the battlefield were hidden by the tangled vegetation and covered by snowfall. ... Between 1946 and 1950, various graves registration units recovered dozens of unidentified remains from the Hürtgen Forest.”

Price died two months shy of his 24th birthday. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Not knowing for 70 years

Carroll said that not long after the Times News ran the story about the Dutch photo project, she and Price’s nephews were contacted by the Army asking for DNA samples. That was the first time in 70 years anyone had contacted the family about him.   

“His immediate family are all gone, his siblings are all gone, and his wife and his son are both deceased,” Carroll said. “My older brother (Elkins) is the oldest survivor for our uncle (Price), and then I’m next, and then my cousin (Gene Price) in Rogersville is third in line. They wanted our DNA and all three of us submitted, and after awhile they called my brother and said they had a perfect match.”

The family had a choice of leaving their uncle in Germany or bringing him home, and they decided he should be returned to Hawkins County.

“We just thought that he probably would want to be at home,” Carroll said. “We’re going to have a proper memorial service for him at Highland Cemetery in Rogersville. I just wish some of his closer family that knew him better could have lived to find out what happened. All of us who are dealing with him now, we just know who he was, and that’s sad.”

She added, “It’s an honor to take care of it for him, and for the family. But it’s still sad that his parents and his wife and son never found out what we now know today.”

“We get to bring one home”

First Sgt. Rob Croxdale with the Tennessee National Guard 730th Quartermaster Company is overseeing Price’s return, and he met with the family Tuesday in Rogersville to discuss funeral arrangements.

“He was killed near the Hürtgen Forest, and if you know anything about history, the Hürtgen Forest was some of the most bloody fighting of World War II,” Croxdale said. “The Germans were basically fighting to hold their homeland. He went out on a recon patrol and never came back. They were very dangerous missions.”

There will be a “dignified transfer” from the plane to a Christian-Sells Funeral Home hearse when Price’s remains arrive at Tri-Cities Airport.

Croxdale added, “Of all the things I’ve been a part of in 28 years in the military, it’s worth every minute that I’ve spent just to have met that family yesterday (Tuesday) in Rogersville. This is one of those stories that’s just awesome. We get to bring one home, and that’s a huge deal.”

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