Lost WWI Marine finally returns home

14 Jul 2010 | Lance Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

His courage was steadfast as he rallied his men’s spirits, leading them into the wake of the offensive. Bullets flew like a swarm of wasps and mortar shells rained down like hail, yet he and his men would not falter in the storm.

However, as sudden as all things are in war, the bullet with the name of one Marine Corps first sergeant on it met its mark. He perished, his body becoming lost for almost a century, until now.

1st Sgt. George Humphrey, a Marine with 6th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Brigade, attached to the U.S Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, who fought in the first U.S.-led offensive of the war in France during World War I, was finally recovered after being lost, dead and buried in an unknown location for 92 years.

“1st. Sgt. Humphrey was killed in action in the Saint-Mihiel offensive in France on Sept. 15, 1918,” said Hatti Johnson, department head of the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Section, Marine Corps Casualty Section, Headquarters Marine Corps. “It was the last day of the four-day battle, the 12th to the 15th, when a German bullet penetrated his helmet and traveled through his skull.”

Humphrey was killed instantly, but due to the ongoing battle, was buried hastily with all of his belongings. A few days later, after the battle concluded, one of Humphrey’s Marines wrote a letter to his family including a map of where his body was buried.

“When the family received the map, they turned it over to the American Graves Registration,” said Johnson. “However, they were never able to find where it was.”

Although Humphrey’s body could not be located, lost to the flow of time which was to claim his body for more than 90 years, his family never gave up hope.

“When we would go to Arlington National Cemetery, our mother would take us to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and say, ‘That could be your cousin, George,’” said Edith Scott, Humphrey’s first cousin and his next-of-kin.

Scott could not offer much information about her mother’s cousin, for even though she was his next-of-kin, Humphrey died seven years before she was born.

Then, in October 2009, French nationals looking for war relics discovered a grave in a spot where, 91 years earlier, Americans repelled advancing German troops on French soil.

“They found a grave with a decomposed body with a helmet and boots still on it,” said Johnson. “All personal belongings, including a belt with ammunition, some coins and a shaving razor with hair still in it, were scattered among the grave.”

The hair in the razor and molds of the teeth were sent to the states to identify the body. In March 2010, a positive identification was confirmed: Humphrey was recovered after nearly a century of being MIA.

While the discovery of Humphrey’s body brings closure to the remaining family members, it also brings new hope to others who have lost family and friends in wars past.

“There have been only five WWI ID’s in the past 10 years,” said Larry Greer, director of public affairs for the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office. “Understandably, they’re just that rare, with all the time that has gone by.”

The remains of Humphrey’s body were then sent back to the U.S. and buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near where Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, who was in command of Humphrey’s unit, was buried.

After 92 years of being lost in the hills of France, Humphrey was buried on home soil July 23, joining the ranks of fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms. This Marine has finally found peace, for as Plato, the classical Greek philosopher, said, “It is only the dead who have seen the end of war.”