BLOUNTVILLE — It took 74 years to get him home, but a Hawkins County World War II soldier — who had been listed as MIA since 1944 and was only recently identified using DNA from family members — arrived at Tri-Cities Airport on Friday night.
A military honor guard from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, performed dignified transfer of remains from the plane to the hearse on Friday, and Pfc. Price was escorted to Rogersville by the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Several of Price’s family members, including a granddaughter, nephews, a niece and others, met him as his casket was removed from the plane, and there was a moment of silence as they stood at his flag-draped casket before it was loaded into the hearse for the ride to Rogersville.
Price was in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, and was 23 years old when he was reported missing on Nov. 6, 1944, after weeks of combat in the Hürtgen Forest in Germany.
He was identified after an article ran in the Times News in 2015 about an organization seeking photos of soldiers whose names were listed on a WWII MIA memorial in the Netherlands, including Price.
As a result of that article, two nephews and a niece came forward with a photo, and they were subsequently contacted by the Army and asked to submit DNA in hopes of identifying Price's remains.
Price’s family was informed in May 1945 that he had been reported missing in action in Germany on Nov. 6, 1944, and he was officially declared dead a year later. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
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.
Price was buried in an unknown soldier’s grave in a military cemetery in Germany, and his remains were identified as X-2736 Neuville.
A family member of another MIA soldier 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, this past Sept. 24 the remains were matched to the DNA of Price’s niece and two nephews.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has declared a day of mourning from sunrise to sunset on Dec. 14 in honor of Price’s ultimate sacrifice.
"It is unimaginable to think of losing a loved one in the chaos of combat and not know for generations where he is buried or if he will ever be found," Haslam said. "Lewis has finally been found and we are proud to recognize his sacrifice and pause in honor of his homecoming back to Tennessee."
Niece Carolyn Carroll of Bean Station said no one had contacted her family about Price from 1945 until the Times News article ran in 2015 seeking his photo.
“His immediate family are all gone, his siblings are all gone, and his wife and his son are both deceased,” Carroll told the Times News last month.
The family had a choice of leaving him 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.”
Tennessee Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder said a final resting place under a headstone with his name is the least we can do for this young Tennessean lost at war.
"Pfc. Price is an important part of our patriotic history and we join his family in making sure he receives a hero’s welcome and is laid to rest with dignity and recognition for his courageous service," Grinder added.
Price is survived by his granddaughter, Rhonda Price, nephews Leon Elkins, Gene Price, Gary Elkins and niece Carolyn Carroll as well as several great-nieces and nephews.
Christian Sells Funeral Home in Rogersville is in charge of the arrangements.