WWII soldier missing since 1945 finally comes home

A casket containing the remains of Army Pfc. Cecil E. Harris is honored during a funeral in Chattanooga, Tenn., Aug. 29, 2014. WDEF-TV

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Friends and family of a Tennessee soldier who was missing for nearly 70 years were finally able to say goodbye Friday, CBS Chattanooga affiliate WDEF-TV reports.

Army Pfc. Cecil E. Harris' platoon came under attack Jan. 2, 1945, in France near the German border during World War II.

Once the smoke cleared, his fellow soldiers noticed the 19-year-old from Shelbyville was missing.

Sixty-eight years later, in 2013, a French national located a possible grave marked by a rock with a crude "H" engraving.

When officials excavated the site, they found Harris' dog tags.

"That was 25,426 days ago," Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Gulley, who served as the family's casualty officer, said Friday. "And on day 25,424 Private First Class Cecil E. Harris finally came home."

Harris was posthumously awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

"The Lord answered my prayers after 70 years," Harris' widow, Helen Harris Cooke, 90, who was pregnant when Harris went to war, told The Tennessean newspaper.

Harris' funeral was held in Chattanooga, where Cooke lives.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam declared Oct. 22, the day Harris is expected to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, to be a day of mourning with flags at half-staff to honor Harris' ultimate sacrifice.

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