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Remains of tank commander from Indiana identified 79 years after he was killed in German World War II battle

Inside DPAA's hunt for lost service members
Department of Defense division works to find missing American service members 04:54

Military scientists have identified the remains of an Indiana soldier who died in World War II when the tank he was commanding was struck by an anti-tank round during a battle in Germany.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Wednesday that the remains of U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Gene F. Walker of Richmond, Indiana, were identified in July, nearly 79 years after his death.

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Gene F. Walker  Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency

Walker was 27 and commanded an M4 Sherman tank in November 1944 when his unit battled German forces near Hücheln, Germany, and his tank was struck by an anti-tank round.

"The hit caused a fire and is believed to have killed Walker instantaneously," the agency said. "The surviving crew bailed out of the tank, but when they regrouped later were unable to remove Walker from the tank due to heavy fighting."

The War Department issued a presumptive finding of death in April 1945 for Walker, DPAA said.

His remains were identified after a DPAA historian who was studying unresolved American losses determined that one set of unidentified remains recovered in December 1944 from a burned-out tank in Hücheln possibly belonged to Walker.

Those remains were exhumed from the Henri-Chapelle U.S. Military Cemetery in Hombourg, Belgium, in August 2021 and sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis. Walker's remains were identified based on anthropological analysis, circumstantial evidence and an analysis of mitochondrial DNA.

His remains will be buried in San Diego, California, in early 2024. DPAA said Walker's name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery in Margarten, Netherlands, and a rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

Ongoing effort to identify remains

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has accounted for 1,543 missing WWII soldiers since beginning its work in 1973. Government figures show that more than 72,000 WWII soldiers are still missing.

DPAA experts like forensic anthropologist Carrie Brown spend years using DNA, dental records, sinus records and chest X-rays to identify the remains of service members killed in combat.

The Nebraska lab that Brown works at has 80 tables, each full of remains and personal effects that can work to solve the mystery. 

"The poignant moment for me is when you're looking at items that a person had on them when they died," Brown told CBS News in May. "When this life-changing event occurred. Life-changing for him, for his entire family, for generations to come." 

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