'Welcome home soldier': Hawkins WWII soldier laid to rest in Rogersville after 74 years MIA

Jeff Bobo • Dec 14, 2018 at 10:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The parents of Pfc. Lewis E. Price must have known he’d be coming home someday because they reserved a plot for him beside them at Highland Cemetery.

On Friday, 74 years and one month after Price was reported missing in action in Germany during World War II, he was reunited with his parents in body, although Chaplain Patrick Brownell noted they have long since been reunited in heaven.

Brownell, who is the brigade chaplain for the Tennessee National Guard 230th Sustainment Brigade, presided over Price’s funeral Friday afternoon.

Family members, many of whom hadn’t met one another or known of each others’ existence prior to Price being identified, were joined at the ceremony by numerous veterans groups, local officials, American Legion and VFW color guards, NJROTC cadets and members of the public wishing to pay their respects.

“Today Price is laid to rest in this, his home,” Brownell said. “We gather together to commend our brother to God, our Father, and to commit his body to the earth. ... Our brother who was assumed lost has been found and has returned home. In God, no one is lost.”

Brownell added, “This is a bittersweet moment for us, to once again be reminded that our brother laid down his life in the service of his country. No greater honor exists than to stand here and pay tribute to our brother who has returned home. I find it heartwarming to know that his parents had a plot next to their grave, as if to know that someday their son would join them. How edifying it is to know that on this hill, community and friends and family, representatives from state, from Nashville, neighbors — that we gather, we mourn and we pray to help bring closure. To read the last chapter, as it were, in the life of this soldier.”

Brownell noted that this was also an opportunity to give Price the thanks and appreciation that he deserves.

“There is no better day to be a soldier than today, to honor the sacrifice of this hero, not in a grave somewhere in distant lands far away, but in the midst of his community. His home. And so I say to him, ‘Welcome home, soldier, Private First Class Price. Welcome home and enter into now the hands of a loving father who also welcomes you home.”

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 declared dead a year later and awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

In 2015, the Times News published an article about an organization seeking photos of soldiers whose names, including Price’s, were listed on a WWII MIA memorial in the Netherlands.

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 samples in hopes of identifying Price’s remains. This past September, remains that had been buried in an unknown soldier’s grave in Germany for 74 years were confirmed by DNA to be Price.

What some of those family members didn’t know at the time was that Price also has a surviving granddaughter, Rhonda Price of Bean Station.

During the funeral, she and elder nephew Leon Elkins were each presented a U.S. flag, a state flag that flew over the Capitol in honor of Price and a proclamation signed by Gov. Haslam declaring Dec. 14, 2018 a day of mourning for Price.

Rhonda Price told the Times News after the funeral that she had always known her grandfather was reported missing and presumed killed during WWII. But until now that’s all she knew about him.

Aside from learning more about her grandfather, and bringing him home after 74 years, Rhonda Price said this experience has introduced her to several family members.

“I told people that I heard the word ‘surreal’ all my life, and I didn’t really know what that meant until now,” she said. “These moments have really made me understand that. It’s incredible. I’m kind of at a loss for words.

“I’ve got a whole new family and they’re amazing. This ceremony has been absolutely beautiful and absolutely amazing, and I appreciate it so much.”

Price’s other survivors are nephews Gene Price and Gary Elkins; niece Carolyn Carroll; and several great-nieces and nephews.