World War II MIA Pfc. Cecil Harris Honored at Epinal American Cemetery
Pfc. Cecil Harris of Company D, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division went missing on January 2, 1945 in northeastern France during Operation Nordwind. On that day, elements of his unit had been tasked with the mission of holding a defensive position near Dambach, France. Attacked by German forces, his platoon withdrew to a more defensible position.
Despite efforts by the American Graves Registration Command after the war, the remains of 19 year old Harris from Shelbyville, Tennessee were never recovered. To honor his sacrifice, his name was inscribed on the Walls of the Missing at Epinal American Cemetery along with 423 other Americans.
Sixty eight years later in September 2013 Vito DeLuca was hiking in the Dambach area and came across what appeared to be human remains. He contacted local authorities, and with help from the French and ABMC staff, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) arrived within days and began excavating the burial site. Utilizing forensic identification tools, JPAC made a positive identification of Harris’ remains in the summer of 2014.
On September 20, 2014 American and French citizens gathered at Epinal American Cemetery for a ceremony to commemorate Harris’ return to the United States. A bronze rosette was placed next to his name by Joel Herzog, mayor of Dambach and Neunhoffen. Assistant Superintendent Shane Williams, who led the ceremony, explained the meaning behind the rosette. “This small item, once placed next to Cecil’s name here, represents a story of recovery and closure for the family,” said Williams. At ABMC cemeteries and memorials around the world, bronze rosettes are placed next to the names of those who have been recovered and identified.
Harris’ remains were brought to Tennessee in August 2014 for a funeral service in Chattanooga, and he will be permanently interred at Arlington National Cemetery on October 22, 2014. On that day, flags in the state of Tennessee will be flown at half-staff as a symbol of mourning.
See more photos from the rosette placement ceremony at Epinal American Cemetery.