World War II soldier identified 77 years after he died in ambush

REIPERTSWILLER, France — More than seven decades after a Pennsylvania soldier died in a World War II ambush in France, his remains have finally been identified.

Pfc. Francis P. Martin, 25, of Scranton, was killed in January 1945 during the Battle of Reipertswiller, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA. Martin, who worked for a tree surgery company before entering the service, was survived by his wife and daughter, both named Mary, his parents and two brothers, including one who was wounded in the war.

Martin was a machine-gunner assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. The 45th Infantry Division, known as the Thunderbirds, was one of the first Army National Guard units sent into battle during World War II.

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The 3rd Battalion of the Thunderbirds was one of the first units to reach the Dachau concentration camp. The soldiers liberated the camp’s prisoners from the Nazis in April 1945, just three months after Martin died.

On Jan. 16, American and German forces were locked in battle in the icy hills north of Reipertswiller. As the fight raged on, Martin was on a truck convoy tasked with bringing ammunition to the front lines, DPAA officials said.

“The convoy was ambushed, and Martin was not among the men who escaped,” authorities said in a news release. “Over the next few days, the Germans surrounded the 157th forces, preventing any search for Martin or the recovery of his body.”

With no evidence in captured German records that he survived the ambush or was held as a prisoner of war, the War Department issued a finding of death on Jan. 17, 1946.

“Beginning in 1947, the American Graves Registration Command, the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel in the European theater, searched the area around Reipertswiller, finding 37 unidentified sets of American remains,” the news release stated. “It was unable to identify any of them as Martin.”

According to records, Martin’s partial skeletal remains were found in Reipertswiller Forest during an August 1947 demining operation. Authorities initially believed the remains belonged to another soldier, Pfc. Clinton Smith Jr., based upon the laundry mark on a first-aid pouch found with the bones.

The tattered bits of clothing and equipment found nearby offered no clues, however. Because of the lack of information proving the soldier’s identity, the case remained open.

The unidentified set of remains, known officially as X-6373, were initially buried at a temporary military cemetery set up in the Belgian village of Neuville-en-Condroz. It was later moved to a plot at Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery near Liège.

Meanwhile, Martin was declared non-recoverable on Oct. 15, 1951, and that status did not change — until recently.

“DPAA historians have been conducting ongoing research into soldiers missing from combat around Reipertswiller and found that Unknown X-6373 Neuville … could be associated with Martin,” authorities said.

The remains were exhumed in August 2021 and transferred to the DPAA lab at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for analysis. Using DNA analysis, combined with dental and anthropological analysis, scientists were able to confirm that the remains were those of Martin.

Martin will be reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.

A rosette will also be added next to Martin’s name on the Walls of the Missing at Epinal American Cemetery in Dinozé, France. A rosette signifies that a missing soldier has been identified at last.

Smith was accounted for in September, authorities said. The 19-year-old soldier, who was a member of Company D alongside Martin, was killed in an artillery strike on Jan. 14, two days before Martin was killed.

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