Fallen WWI Marine to Get Stateside Burial 92 Years Later
Humphrey, who was 29 at the time, was killed on Sept. 15, 1918, when a machine gun bullet pierced his helmet during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. Under German fire, his fellow fighters buried him in the woods in a rural area, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
His brother, Oliver, tried to find the remains, and the next year he made contact with a Marine who helped bury his brother.
"I know my parents would be equally as anxious as you are if the circumstances were reversed," the soldier, Frank A. Cleland of California, wrote to Oliver Humphrey, according to the paper. Cleland sent him a hand-drawn map and detailed the battle.
"During the day, we buried your brother on the crest of that hill about 150 yards from that trail," he wrote. "Whatever personal effects your brother had were buried with him, as they were shelling the hill all the time and we didn't have time to search him, and there was no one to send them in with anyway."
After the war, efforts to find the grave were unsuccessful. Then last fall, a relic hunter heard a ping on a metal detector. Humphrey's remains were found. A team was sent to the site in October and cataloged what was found.
Though his uniform had mostly disintegrated, his helmet was there, along with coins, a canteen, razor, toothbrush, fountain pen and tobacco pipe, the Journal Sentinel said. There was also a marksman badge with "GH Humphrey" engraved on the back and a folded article from The New York Times in his wallet.
A photograph shows the skeleton, which appears mostly intact from the waist down. The damaged helmet is near where the head would have been, partially wedged under a root. Dental records were used to confirm the identity.
Humphrey died a bachelor, and neither he nor his brother had children. The military found some of his cousins, and several are attending the burial on Wednesday, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Among them is Edith Scott, 85, of Washington, D.C., whose mother at one time lived with cousin George and his family.
"When we would visit Arlington National Cemetery, Mother would point to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and say that could be your cousin George," Scott told the Journal Sentinel.
The military also contacted 90-year-old John Humphrey of Oconomowoc, Wis., the Marine's first cousin once removed, and John's sisters, Helen Neitzel, 77, of Horicon, Wis., and Frances Richter, 83 of Watertown, Wis.
"You'd think after 92 years he'd never be found," John Humphrey, a retired farmer, told the paper. "It tells people don't give up. There's always hope for families."
John Humphrey won't be attending the service because of health concerns, but his sisters are traveling to Arlington, Va., at the government's expense.
Neitzel told the Journal Sentinel she was stunned when she got the news, though she doesn't know much about George Humphrey.
"I called my sister first and told her. She said, 'Are you sure you're not drinking?'" Neitzel said. "It's just such an amazing story. I said I had to go and see it through."
Humphrey will be buried with full military honors, according to Gunnery Sgt. William J. Dixon, the funeral director for the Marine Corps.
"There is no greater honor to me than to direct this funeral in honor of such a fallen warrior who laid down his life in defense of the world," Dixon told the Marine Corps Times. "His remains were lost to time, but only for a moment to the Marines."