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U.S. WWI Soldier Laid to Rest in France

The remains of an unknown World War I soldier were laid to rest today at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France after a yearlong effort to identify the nationality of the remains recovered in a French village where U.S. and German forces clashed more than a century ago.

The soldier, presumed to be an American, was buried with full military honors alongside more than 6,000 of his fellow countrymen who died during the Great War.

"Today, we gather here to honor the remains of an unknown, American, World War I soldier," Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said. "We pay tribute to this brave soldier who gave his life for his country for the cause of democracy and freedom."

A man in uniform speaks from behind a lectern.
James C. McConville
Gen. James C. McConville, the Army chief of staff, speaks at the burial of a World War I unknown soldier at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France, June 7, 2023.
Photo By: Russell Toof, American Battle Monuments Commission 
VIRIN: 230606-D-GJ885-002

McConville recalled the bravery and sacrifice of those who, like the soldier being honored, fought bravely alongside U.S. allies.

"He was a hero because he embodied the values of courage and honor. He was a hero because he fought for a purpose that was greater than himself. "And he was a hero because he gave the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield for the cause of freedom," McConville said.

The ceremony marked the first burial of an unknown U.S. soldier from World War I since 1988 and the first burial at Oise-Aisne since 1932.

The soldier's remains were discovered in February 2022 in a cemetery in Villers-sur-Fere, a village about 60 miles northeast of Paris where American forces battled German forces in the summer of 1918.

He was discovered alongside U.S. field equipment, including a steel helmet, trench knife, ammunition belt and 30.06 ammunition cartridges.

The French undertaker who made the discovery alerted authorities, who then involved the French government agency responsible for identifying those who died in the war.

Service members in uniform carry a casket draped by a U.S. flag.
Funeral Honors
Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade carry a casket with the remains of a World War I unknown soldier at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France, June 7, 2023.
Photo By: Russell Toof, American Battle Monuments Commission 
VIRIN: 230606-D-GJ885-005

The French authorities then contacted World War I archaeology expert Yves Desfosses to recover the remains and assess the buried artifacts.

The French agency also contacted representatives of the American Battle Monuments Commission, which oversees the 23 World War I and World War II cemeteries worldwide, including Oise-Aisne.

Based on Desfosses' analysis, French officials issued a written determination that the remains were that of a U.S. soldier.

ABMC historians also verified the soldier's nationality after an analysis that drew from the wartime memoir of Army Chaplain Francis P. Duffy, which describes the burial of U.S. soldiers from the 42nd "Rainbow" Division in the location where the remains were discovered.

Oise-Aisne superintendent Bert Caloud praised the reverence with which the French officials handled the remains once they were discovered, and the painstaking lengths France and the U.S. went to ensure the soldier was honored for his service.

He said the memory of World War I underpins the lasting bond between the two countries.

A man in uniform places a flower on a coffin.
White Rose
Gen. James C. McConville, Army chief of staff, lays a white rose on the casket of a Word War I unknown soldier during a ceremony at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France, June 7, 2023.
Photo By: Russell Toof, American Battle Monuments Commission 
VIRIN: 230606-D-GJ885-009

That bond was on display during the solemn ceremony held among rows of white crosses at Oise-Aisne, where French and U.S. military officials stood side-by-side to honor the soldier.

Caloud said the French, who saw fierce fighting on in their towns and villages during the war, will never forget the sacrifices of the Americans who they fought alongside.

"If I look out there on Memorial Day, he's going to have flowers" on his grave, Caloud said of the unknown soldier. "He's going to have flowers from French people."

During his remarks, McConville thanked those allies present during the burial and those who assisted in the recovery of the remains. 

"God bless this soldier and all those soldiers who serve our nations to protect our freedoms," he said.

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