The remains of a soldier killed in World War II and recovered this past summer, will be buried Dec. 9 at Johannestal Baptist Cemetery in Eureka.
Graveside services for U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sgt. Walter Nies will be performed by Carlsen Funeral Home and Crematory, of Ashley, N.D., preceding the interment.
A native of Eureka, Nies was assigned to the 96th Bombardment Squadron, 2nd Bombardment Group (Heavy), 15th Air Force. He was serving as the tail gunner aboard a B-17F Flying Fortress bomber that was part of a bombardment mission to Sofia, Bulgaria, during the winter of 1944, according to a news release from the U.S. Army.
German fighters attacked the B-17’s formation over Yugoslavia on Jan. 24, 1944, while it was attempting to return to its home base in Italy. Nies’ aircraft began having engine trouble shortly after and was forced to crash land on a beach near Ulcinj, Montenegro, according to the release. The crew was captured by the Germans. All of the enlisted men, including Nies, were sent to Stalag Luft 6, a prisoner of war camp in Heydekrug, Germany.
Nies died in that camp May 28, 1944, after being shot. According to German reports, he was trying to escape, but U.S. prisoner testimony following the war claimed Nies was shot while on his way to the latrine during the early morning, according to the release. Nies was 23 years old.
After the war, the American Graves Registration Command was unable to recover his remains because Stalag Luft 6, which was inside Lithuania, was deep inside the Soviet occupation zone.
Beginning in 1948, the AGRC worked with the Soviet government to retrieve the remains of American service members. But by September 1951, Nies could still not be found, and he was declared non-recoverable March 25, 1954. After Lithuania became independent in 1992, the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs discovered the Soviet Union destroyed Stalag Luft 6 in 1955, reverting the area to farmland.
In 2019, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency partnered with an American archeological group that had been investigating the site, finding possible gravesites for three missing Americans. The DPAA then partnered with a Lithuanian archeological group to excavate the sites in August 2021 and transferred the remains to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for analysis.
Nies' remains were identified Aug. 2, 2022 using material and circumstantial evidence as well as dental, anthropological and DNA analysis.
His name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at Luxembourg American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, along with others still missing from World War II. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
According to the outreach and communications department for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Nies is one of four South Dakota service members who were recently accounted for, but South Dakota continues to have 311 service members unaccounted for who died during their service in World War II. Across the U.S., the remains of 1,426 have been accounted for, but 72,267 remain unaccounted for.
This article originally appeared on Aberdeen News: Remains recovered for Eureka soldier killed in World War II