U.S. Army 1st Lt. James E. Wright, 25, of Parkton, North Carolina, killed in World War II, was listed on July 9, 2021 (Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency)
LUMBER BRIDGE, NC (Tribune News Service) – Tuesday marks the return of a WWII soldier, friend and hero who will rest in a cemetery here next to his childhood home.
After 77 years, U.S. Army 1st Lt. James E. Wright, known to family members as Dick, will return home for a funeral service featuring full military honors and a host of relatives. Visitations will be from 10 a.m. to noon at the Lumber Bridge Baptist Church, located at 100 Church Street, Lumber Bridge. The fallen soldier will be transported at noon from the church to Oakdale Cemetery at Lumber Bridge. Its services are open to the public.
The US Army chaplain, Lt. Col. Douglas Alan Windley, will officiate the service. Services are entrusted to Maison Funéraire Lafayette de Fayetteville.
Before the service, US Air Force Staff Sgt. Sidney Brookman traveled to Nebraska to escort the remains of his great-great-uncle Wright to North Carolina on Friday. Family members present at the funeral are: Diana Merkt, Wright’s niece; Rebecca Wright, his grand-niece; and others.
“She has just been overwhelmed with feelings because of this honor,” said Diana Merkt of Brookman.
The soldier was killed in action at the age of 25 in September 1944. He was first reported missing on September 10, 1944 and declared “unrecoverable” by the American Graves Registration Command in 1951.
Wright was recorded on the walls of the missing at the Lorraine American Cemetery in France where his remains, although unidentified, were buried. It was officially counted on July 9, according to an announcement by the Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War / Missing In Action accounting agency on September 24.
“It’s an absolute miracle,” Merkt said.
Merkt never knew his uncle. However, her mother, Elizabeth Wright Harper, 100, became emotional when she heard the news that her brother had been identified a few months ago. Harper is the only living brother of the 10 children. She is unable to attend the service, but will cherish the news for the rest of her life.
“When we told her, her first reaction was to start crying,” Merkt said. “It was the same for all of us.
Wright’s nephew Bobby Wright said the news was almost unbelievable. He will also not be able to attend the service, but shared the impact the news had on his life with The Robesonian this week.
“There is a closure,” Bobby said.
Yet, through tears, he said that so many memories with his late uncle were missed.
Bobby remembers traveling from California to North Carolina to live with his grandparents and uncle Dick on the family farm at Lumber Bridge in 1939 when he was 8 years old. Margaret, before the two got married.
Wright was married to Margaret Canary for almost two years before being killed, according to Bobby’s daughter Rebecca Wright. Margaret then remarried and had three children before her death in 2009 at the age of 90.
While at Lumber Bridge, Bobby learned to fish, hunt, and swim from his uncle who looked after him and became a close friend.
“It was the highlight of my young life,” he said.
Bobby also remembers the pain his grandmother endured after her son disappeared. She always imagined him one day walking down the driveway to the house, which is now located on the Scothurst Golf Course property. However, that day never came.
“She lived without knowing her son had ever been found,” Bobby said.
But soon the two will be buried in the same cemetery on NC 20 at Lumber Bridge. Finally, they will finally be together.
“This is exactly what her mother wanted,” said Rebecca Wright, Bobby’s daughter.
Wright was assigned to F Company, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division that year as a member of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army who fought across France before facing German opposition to the Moselle, according to the DPAA.
Wright’s unit received bad intelligence information and ran into German troops, according to Merkt. When they were finally ordered to fall back and retreat, some soldiers began to collect the bodies of the wounded. Dick was one of the soldiers working to move injured soldiers.
“He swam across the river on the German-held side,” Merkt said.
Dick sailed back up the river and brought back three wounded soldiers.
“He was heading for the German lines to look for more wounded and that was the last time anyone saw him,” Merkt said.
“It was washed downstream. He was not where his unit was, ”she said.
A few years later, a researcher discovered that a soldier was in the wrong place and washed down the Moselle, Merkt said. This prompted the military to look for more soldiers in this region. Then they found Wright and six others.
“In 2012, a private researcher from the 7th Armored Division Association suggested that one of the unknowns recovered from the woods of the horseshoe known as X-46 Hamm and buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery, a site from the US Commission for Battle Monuments in Hamm, Luxembourg, could be a match against a soldier from Wright’s unit or the 7th Armored Division, ”according to the DPAA.
“After extensive research and comparison of records by DPAA historians and analysts, the X-46 was exhumed in May 2016 and sent to the DPAA lab at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for identification,” according to the communicated.
To identify Wright, DPAA scientists used DNA and dental and anthropological analyzes, according to the DPAA.
Rebecca Wright was contacted in 2016 via ancestry.com, a website that stores and shares genealogical information, during the process of identifying her great-uncle, she said. She then directed the military to Diana Merkt and Elizabeth Wright Harper.
During her efforts to share and add to her online family tree, Rebecca also came across Margaret’s family line, which included three children she shared with her second husband. Rebecca told the Robesonian that she plans to meet with at least one of the children to receive war medals that belonged to her great-uncle.
There are 72,395 servicemen still missing from World War II, according to the DPAA. There are 9,270 Americans still missing from the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War, Gulf Wars, and other battles.
Merkt encourages others whose loved ones are still not identified to keep the faith.
“Don’t give up because after 77 years no one ever thought we would know what happened to Uncle Dick, but we do,” Merkt said.
(c) 2021 The Robesonian (Lumberton, North Carolina)
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