GIBSON CITY — Pfc. Clarence Brotherton has returned home to his family.
The Gibson City native, whose body had been buried in Europe for nearly three-quarters of a century after he was killed in the World War II Battle of Hurtgen Forest in western Germany, now rests beside his family.
Pfc. Brotherton was buried with full military honors at Gibson City’s Drummer Township Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon.
Nephew Joel Brotherton said the ceremony brings closure “to a long, long period” when the family did not know what had happened to their relative.
“We as family members this afternoon only have stories to color in the life of our Uncle Clarence,” Joel Brotherton said. “We know of a more reserved nature, more similar to his brother Lyle than his brother John.
“He was, as my father would say, a pesky nuisance at times but always knowing of the unified protection of his older siblings. Clarence was the pride of his father, the joy of his mother and always the biggest part of his mother’s heart for her youngest child.”
Pfc. Brotherton was killed in action on Oct. 14, 1944, when his infantry unit was engaged in battle with German forces near Germeter, Germany. His remains could not be recovered because of the ongoing fighting.
All three of the Brotherton sons went into the military. Lyle was assigned to grave registration overseas while John was assigned as a belly gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress but did not have to go overseas because the war ended.
Lyle reportedly searched extensively for Clarence after the war. Clarence was declared legally dead in 1951 and had been buried in Ardennes National Cemetery in Belgium in 1950. His remains were eventually sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency’s lab at Offut Air Force Base Nebraksa for identification.
Joel Brotherton said his uncle’s parents “watched as their sons committed their lives to the unified belief that all people have the given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And when another nation’s government took away those freedoms, those three brothers committed to the fight” to restore that liberty.
He said he can’t imagine what it was like for his uncle to have been in the foxholes of battle, to have risked his life daily.
“I also can’t imagine what it was like for Clarence’s mother, his father or his two brothers to never have closure,” Joel Brotherton said. “Today, we have that closure. Today, we have, if you will, the closure of that 75-year journey home. Today, we, too, have that closure for ourselves, his remaining family.
“We have, as Clarence was sure of, our eternal home and our eternal place with Christ.”
Joel Brotherton said he knows his uncle is now surrounded by his family who preceded him in death “and by his God, just as we are surrounded today by his ongoing family.”
Dental and anthropological analysis as well as circumstantial evidence were used alongside mitochronidal DNA analysis to identify Pfc. Brotherton’s remains.
He was one of at least 33,000 — and possibly as many as 55,000 — U.S. Army personnel killed and wounded in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. German casualties were estimated at 28,000.
The American Graves Registration Command was given the assignment of investigating and recovering missing American personnel in Europe following the war. It had been unable to recover or identify Pfc. Brotherton’s remains despite conducting several investigations in the Hurtgen area between 1946 and 1950.
Joel Brotherton gave special thanks to the service members “who never forgot their commitment to bring each man, and in today’s world each woman, home.”
“And finally, we can lay Uncle Clarence’s body to rest next to his family members,” he said.
Pfc. Brotherton was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Victory in Europe medal and two campaign medals.