(WHTM) — Starting on September 19, 1944, and lasting until December 16, the Battle of Hürtgen Forest was the longest single battle in U.S. Army history. It was also the longest battle on German soil during the war. The Americans suffered at least 33,000 casualties, with some estimates placing the toll as high as 55,000.
One of the casualties was Army Private Walter G. Wildman, age 20, of Bristol, Pennsylvania. Wildman served with Company M, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He’d been seriously wounded in June, was transferred from France to Britain for treatment, then returned to the front. He was reported killed in action on November 13, but due to the intense fighting at the time, his body couldn’t be recovered.
Following the war the American Graves Registration Command searched the Hürtgen area several times, but couldn’t identify any remains as Wildman, and he was declared non-recoverable in December of 1951.
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But that doesn’t mean the military stopped looking. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), whose stated mission is “Provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation” turned their attention to X-5441, a body originally found by a German demining team, and buried at Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium. In April 2019, they disinterred the remains and took them to the DPAA laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. There, using dental, DNA, and anthropological analysis, combined with circumstantial and material evidence, they were able to confirm that X-5441 is indeed Pvt. Wildman.
Wildman will be buried on May 23, 2022, in Newtown, Pennsylvania. At the Netherlands American Cemetery, a rosette will be placed next to his name on the Walls of the Missing, to indicate that he is missing no longer.
To see Wildman’s personnel profile, click here.
For more about the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, click here
To learn about Ardennes American Cemetery, click here