The remains of a U.S. soldier who went missing in France during World War II were finally returned home to Tennessee on Wednesday.
Almost 70 years ago in 1945, the German military was pushing against Allied forces stationed in France in “The Battle of the Bulge.” That’s when Pfc. Cecil Harris disappeared without a trace.
Harris was just 19 when he left for war, leaving his pregnant wife Helen Cooke behind.
REGGIE ASPLUND: “The postman brought her a telegram that forever changed the course of her life. It simply stated that Cecil Harris was missing in action.”
According to the Department of Defense, the American Graves Registration Command searched for Harris’s body in 1949 after the end of the war, but was unsuccessful.
It wasn’t until 68 years later in 2013 that WJHL says a French hiker uncovered what looked like a grave around the area he went missing:
REPORTER: “A French citizen had found a grave near the German border. A stone on top was marked with the initial ‘H’ and a cross. Underneath bones, and dog tags — Cecil E. Harris, U.S.”
According to the Johnson City Press, that French hiker then contacted a historian specializing in the soldier’s infantry division, who then reached out to Harris’ son, William “Eddie” Harris: “I really could not comprehend it. I thought someone was fooling me when that guy got in touch with me.”
Eddie, who never got to meet his father, spoke with WBIR when his father’s body was returned to Tennessee:
EDDIE: “He was missing over there for about 70 years and he was buried in a grave less than two feet deep and he was there all them years, so I’m just glad to get him home with closure.”
Cecil's wife Helen was amazed that his body was found:
HELEN: “I kept hoping that, you know, it was just such a long time. It’s just amazing that they found him.”
Harris was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge. A funeral service was held on Friday and he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on Oct. 22.