The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, recently accounted-for from World War II, are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Pfc. Gerald F. Wipfli, 23, of Nekoosa, Wisconsin, will be buried September 23 in his hometown. In early November 1944, Wipfli was a member of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 112th Infantry, when his unit was engaged in intense combat against German forces in the town of Schmidt, Germany, within the Hürtgen Forest. Due to chaotic fighting, 112th Infantry officers were not able to accurately report the status of each soldier, and it took several days for Company I to gain accountability of their casualties. Wipfli was among 33 soldiers listed as missing in action from his company. No surviving members of his unit had information on his fate, and he was reported missing in action on Nov. 4, 1944.
German forces did not report Wipfli as being taken prisoner, and American forces did not retake Schmidt until February 1945. However, none of the remains that were found during initial searches were identified as Wipfli.
Following the end of the hostilities, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC), U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, was the unit tasked with investigating and recovering missing American personnel in the European Theater. The AGRC conducted several investigations and recoveries, however Wipfli’s remains were not found. On Dec. 15, 1950, having received no further evidence on Wipfli, he was declared non-recoverable.
On April 16, 2010, workers of the Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE) power company unearthed osseous remains while installing electrical lines in Schmidt. The RWE notified the Voklsbund Deutsche Kriegsbraberfursorge e. V. (VdK, German War Graves Commission), which excavated the site. The VdK notified the Deputy U.S. Forces Liaison Officer and U.S. Army Mortuary Affairs Activity-Europe of the recovery. The remains were sent to the Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu for analysis on May 11, 2010.
To identify Wipfli’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) and autosomal (auSTR) DNA, which matched his sister and niece; anthropological analysis, which matched Wipfli’s records; and historical evidence.
The support of the German government was vital to the success of this recovery.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 73,004 service members (approximately 26,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable) still unaccounted for from World War II. Wipfli’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at an ABMC site along with the other MIAs from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.