Remains of WWII soldier identified as North Carolinian among first to land on D-Day

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DNA, dental and other analyses confirmed the identity of remains buried in Belgium as a 27-year-old World War II soldier from North Carolina who died during battle in a German forest, officials with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said Friday.

This newspaper clipping from 1944 reports that Army Pfc. David Owens of Green Hill in Watauga County was missing.
This newspaper clipping from 1944 reports that Army Pfc. David Owens of Green Hill in Watauga County was missing.

Army Pfc. David Owens, of Green Hill in Watauga County, was among the first soldiers to land on the French coast on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when Allied troops invaded Nazi-occupied France, according to newspaper clippings when Owens was reported missing in action on Nov. 22, 1944.

Owens died while his unit battled German forces in the Hürtgen Forest, which is near Hürtgen, Germany, according to a DPAA news release. The release included newspaper photos and clippings of Owens from when we was reported missing.

Declared killed in action

In the title of his 2013 book about the battle, author Rick Atkinson describes Hürtgen Forest as “the worst place of any” due to the fierce fighting and casualties.

Owens was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, DPAA officials said.

“His body was unable to be recovered, and the Germans never reported him as a prisoner of war,” according to the news release. “He was declared killed in action Nov. 23, 1945.”

After the war, the American Graves Registration Command searched the Hürtgen area several times between 1946 and 1950 but never recovered or identified Owens’ remains. The command led the investigations and recovery of missing American soldiers in Europe.

Owens “was declared non-recoverable in December 1950,” according to the DPAA release.

This newspaper clipping from Dec. 28, 1944, reports that World War II Army Pfc. David Owens, of Green Hill in Watauga County, was listed as dead.
This newspaper clipping from Dec. 28, 1944, reports that World War II Army Pfc. David Owens, of Green Hill in Watauga County, was listed as dead.

Thanks to a DPAA historian, remains believed to be Owens were disinterred in August 2018 from Ardennes American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium, officials said.

DPAA historian had a hunch

While studying unresolved American cases in the Hürtgen area, the historian determined that a set of unidentified remains possibly belonged to Owens, according to the agency.

The remains, X-2707 Neuville, were recovered near Hürtgen in 1946 and buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in 1950, the historian found.

After the remains were disinterred, agency investigators sent them to a DPAA lab at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

DPAA scientists at the military base identified Owens through “dental and anthropological analysis, as well as circumstantial evidence,” according to the DPAA news release. Scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System also confirmed his identity, through mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome DNA analysis, officials said.

Owens “was accounted for” on June 15, said DPAA officials. It took until Friday for the agency to announce the findings because his family only recently received a full briefing on his identification, officials said.

Owens’ family couldn’t immediately be reached by The Charlotte Observer on Saturday. The 1944 newspaper clippings released by the DPAA on Friday said Owens’ wife, Gladys Owens, and his mother, Mary Owens, lived in Belmont at the time. He was Mary Owens’ only son, according to the clippings.

Burial planned in Arlington National Cemetery

David Owens’ name appears on the Walls of the Missing at Netherlands American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Margarten, Netherlands, along with other soldiers reported missing from the war.

“A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for,” according to the DPAA.

Owens will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, at a date to be determined, DPAA officials said.