ASHLAND, Ohio (WJW) – U.S. Army Pfc. Sanford Bowen was in his 20s when he left his family and hometown behind to go to the WWII battlefields of France.
“He was fun, fun to be with and caring and loving, he adored us and so we adored him. He brought me an army hat one of those things to wear on your head and you know we just loved him to pieces,” said his niece Connie Clark Jones, who was 14 when she last saw her uncle.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Bowen was assigned to Company I, 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.
In January of 1945, the unit was attempting to secure terrain near Reipertswiller, France, when it was surrounded by German forces while being pounded by artillery and mortar fire. Company I and the four other companies surrounded were given the order to attempt a break-out on Jan. 20, but only two men from Company I made it through German lines. The rest were either captured or killed. Bowen was among those killed, but his body could not be recovered because of the fighting.
He was officially declared ‘unrecoverable’ in 1951.
“My grandfather’s remains were actually recovered in 1947 we learned that just a few months ago with just a number and the number stayed with the file,” said Lori Bowen Reinbolt, Bowen’s granddaughter.
Using those records last year, the effort to try to identify him was given new life.
“I got a call from the army, I think in February, saying they were close to identifying his remains,” said Lisa Bowen Simpson, Bowen’s oldest granddaughter and the daughter of the son Bowen never got to meet.
“The past conflicts branch they continuously search endlessly they are like archeologists they travel the world and scour battlefields they look at DNA that comes in from family members and use emerging technologies to identify our fallen,” said Major Jason Brand of the Ohio Army National Guard.
Using DNA to confirm their suspicions, Bowen was finally officially identified and returned to his hometown of Ashland where, on Friday, he received a funeral and burial with full military honors.
“I believe the United States military truly does believe no one left behind and they continued to search for those that were unidentified,” said Reinbolt.
“When he was MIA they have a wall in France and they buried the bones there, put his name on the big plaque and now that he’s found they put a rosette next to his name, noting that he has been identified,” said Simpson.
“Today is a homecoming, it’s an emotional occasion but it’s not a sad occasion to me because it brings closure to just a big question that has been a part of my family for my entire life,” said Reinbolt.
With Bowen’s successful identification, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency continues to list 3,168 Ohio service members who remain unaccounted for from World War II alone.
“They never give up (trying to identify the missing) and it’s a collaborative effort and it’s just a great story,” said Brand.
“Society doesn’t really see or know until they see some of these repatriation cases that we truly do live the mantra of no soldier left behind.”