SAVANNAH, Ga. – Pvt. Odell Sharpe (search), killed during World War II, is finally coming home.
The remains of Sharpe — presumed slain on Christmas Day 1944 when he as only 19 — were recently identified from a skeleton found in a foxhole near the Belgian-German border.
Now his family is preparing for something long overdue: a funeral.
"I had just made up my mind that I would never know what happened to him, and believe you me, there was many a day I wondered," his sister, Mary Miller (search), said Wednesday from her home in the farm town of Uvalda.
Three Belgian civilians working for a non-governmental group that searches for lost World War II (search) casualties discovered the remains in September 2003. They found pieces of an infantry soldier's uniform, a skeleton, upper and lower jawbones and dog tags bearing Sharpe's name.
The military did not notify Sharpe's family until more than a year later, after thoroughly analyzing the bones and teeth to make sure they matched Sharpe's medical records.
Lt. Ken Hall, with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, said it's not unusual to recover the remains of World War II soldiers six decades later.
The joint command identifies remains of more than 100 service members a year. About 78,000 Americans from World War II are unaccounted for.
The son of sharecropping parents, Sharpe was drafted by the Army in January 1944, Miller said, and went to Europe as a machine gunner with the 99th Infantry Division.
Sharpe's unit was among 80,000 troops in Belgium trying to stop a German force of 250,000 from advancing against Allied lines in an initial assault of the Battle of the Bulge. Sharpe was lost during the confusion of a forced retreat.
"My momma got a telegram from the Army sometime in January 1945 saying he was missing in action," said George Sharpe, who was 14 when his brother died. "It was either July or August when she got another one and it said `presumed killed in action.' That's hard to live with."
On Sunday, Sharpe will be buried next to his parents in the family plot at Dead River Cemetery. Soldiers from Fort Stewart will provide full military honors — serving as pallbearers, presenting the family with a flag and firing a three-volley salute as a bugler plays taps.
Miller, 71, said her family never had a funeral for Sharpe after the Army declared him presumed dead. Her father decided against it to spare their grieving mother.
Miller's memories include Sharpe watching over his younger siblings while their parents worked the corn and cotton fields. She also remembered him teaching her to iron clothes. Even so long after he died, she said, the thought of burying him still brings sadness.
"It's like losing him all over again," she said. "But we're very, very proud we can finally put him where he belongs, and he's not way over in another country in a hole by himself.