Missing WWII Soldier Identified (Owens)

Release No: 11-047 Aug. 18, 2011
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The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from World War II, have been identified and are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Pvt. Donald D. Owens, 19, of Cleveland, will be buried on August 23 in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. In late September 1944, his unit, the 773rd Tank Battalion, was fighting its way east to France’s eastern border, clearing German forces out of the Parroy Forest near Lunéville. For its combat service, the 773rd received the Presidential Unit Citation as the battalion had destroyed 125 enemy tanks by war’s end. On Oct. 9, 1944, in the final battle for control of the region, Owens and four other soldiers were attacked by enemy fire in their M-10 Tank Destroyer. Two men survived with serious injuries but three others, including Owens were reported to have been killed. Evidence at the time indicated the remains of the men had been destroyed in the attack and were neither recovered nor buried near the location.

In November 1946, a French soldier working in the Parroy Forest found debris associated with an M-10 vehicle and human remains, which were turned over to the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC). The remains were buried as unknowns in what is now known as the Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium. A year later the AGRC returned to the Parroy Forest to conduct interviews and search for additional remains. Investigators noted at that time that all remains of U.S. soldiers had reportedly been removed in the last two years and that the crew was likely buried elsewhere as unknowns.

In 2003, a French citizen exploring the Parroy Forest discovered human remains and an identification bracelet engraved with one of the soldier’s name, from a site he had probed occasionally since 1998. The information was eventually sent to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC). In April 2006, the man turned over the items to a JPAC team working in Europe. A few months later a second JPAC team returned to the site and recovered more human remains, personal effects and an identification tag for Owens.

Historians at DPMO and JPAC continued their research on the burials at the Ardennes Cemetery, and drew a correlation to those unknowns removed from the 1944 battle site. In early 2008, JPAC disinterred these remains and began their forensic review.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from JPAC used dental comparisons for the men and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA, which matched that of each soldier’s relatives in the identification of their remains.

More than 400,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II died. Today, more than 73,000 remain unaccounted-for from the conflict.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, call (703) 699-1169 or visit the DPMO Web site at www.dtic.mil/dpmo.