ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — Recently identified remains of a Carter County man killed in Germany during World War II will be interred next month at Arlington National Cemetery.
For the family of Private First Class Mark Wilson, it will be a moment almost 80 years in the making.
“We just figured they’d never find him, that he’d always be considered missing and presumed dead,” said Tom Whitehead, Wilson’s nephew.
Whitehead was just a baby when, in 1944, his family got word that PFC Wilson was missing after a battle near Kommerscheidt, Germany. The 20-year-old had been drafted the year before and was assigned to the 112th Infantry Regiment.
Whitehead can’t remember his uncle, but he has vivid memories of his grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles who were crippled by grief for the rest of their lives.
“My Grandmother Wilson probably wept every day,” Whitehead said. “She’d say, ‘I wonder where Mark is. I wonder where Mark is.'”
The Wilson family was determined that, even though they couldn’t bury Mark, there always would be a place where they could gather, mourn and remember him. They placed a marker in a cemetery in Bristol, and Whitehead said he and his relatives visit the site every Memorial Day.
“I plan to keep going every year until I can’t go anymore,” Whitehead said.
PFC Wilson’s parents died in 1966 never knowing what happened to their son.
“Down deep they knew he was deceased, but there was always hope,” he said. “They died very sad people.”
In the decades since PFC Wilson’s death, Whitehead said his aunt, one of Wilson’s sisters, persistently asked the Department of Defense to test all unidentified remains in hopes of finding her brother. Relatives submitted DNA samples on the chance that, in the ongoing effort to identify remains collected after the war ended in Germany, a match would be found.
Last September, the Wilson family got the call they’d been waiting for.
“They said 100 percent it was him,” Whitehead.
DNA testing on a partial skeleton found in Germany in 1945 led the Department of Defense to contact the family of PFC Wilson and tell them that their loved one had been found.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard,” Whitehead said. “I couldn’t believe they found Uncle Mark.”
That wasn’t the only surprise for the Wilson family.
The Dept. of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency also provided PFC Wilson’s family with a complete report detailing the circumstances surrounding his death.
According to the report, Wilson was among 80 soldiers reported missing in action after German forces overtook American forces in the village of Kommerscheidt in early November 1945. An eyewitness account from a fellow soldier collected after the war confirmed Wilson was struck by enemy artillery on November 5 as German forces overtook the 112th Infantry Regiment in Kommerscheidt.
Wilson’s body wasn’t found during initial attempts after the war to collect the remains of Americans killed in Kommerscheidt. Subsequent attempts over the next five years ended with the same result. By 1951, the Army declared Wilson’s remains to be “non-recoverable.”
The world moved on after World War II, but the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency never stopped trying to identify the remains of soldiers that were collected during and after the war, including partial remains found on May 6, 1945, by a German resident returning home after the battle that destroyed his village.
According to interviews conducted by Army investigators, the man returned to Kommerscheidt after the end of the war and found human remains in the burned rubble of his home.
“He explained that most of the body had been burned and he had not been able to determine if the remains were American or German,” the report said. “On May 10, 1945, (he) buried the remains near his house and marked the remains with a small cross.”
Those remains were immediately disinterred by Army investigators and determined to be an American soldier. But without any clear identification, the bones were taken to Belgium, declared unidentifiable, and kept there for decades.
In the following years, military historians determined PFC Wilson and 20 other missing soldiers from the Battle in Kommerscheidt possibly could be linked to the unidentified remains found immediately after the war. So in July 2021, the Dept. of Defense and American Battle Monuments Commission exhumed the remains in Belgium and transferred them to a laboratory for further analysis.
Within just a few weeks, DNA samples collected from Wilson’s family matched the partial skeleton found in the burned-out rubble of the home in Kommerscheidt.
Wilson’s family didn’t have long to process the stunning news. They also had to make a decision.
“They finally said, ‘It’s him. What do you want us to do with the bones?'” Whitehead said. “We said – let’s take him to Arlington.”
Next month, Tom Whitehead and the other living relatives of PFC Mark Wilson will attend a burial ceremony with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
“It makes me feel proud,” Whitehead said. “We’ll finally have a chance to welcome him home.”