Remains of WWII private returning home



TROY — After more than 75 years missing in action, the remains of a World War II soldier are returning home.

The family of Private First Class Clifford Mills learned in January that his remains had been identified in Europe and that they would be transported back to the United States, but the process picked up speed about three weeks ago.

Since then, the family has learned a lot about Mills, who grew up in Perry County, and his time in the U.S. Army during World War II, as well as the process and ceremony that comes with returning soldiers’ remains to their loved ones.

On Tuesday, the family held their first news conference on Mills’ return, but due to privacy concerns, asked to remain anonymous for now.

Mills’ oldest niece is managing his return with the help of a casualty assistance officer from the Indiana National Guard.

Mills was one of seven children, but only one of his siblings is still living. His only remaining brother is 92 and felt unable to manage everything that came along with Mills’ return. Although she admitted to being overwhelmed at times, the niece said she’s happy to lead the effort.

“It is a privilege and honor to get to this because he gave his life for his country,” the niece said.

Mills was born in 1914 and raised in Perry County as the oldest of Robert and Myrtle Van Winkle Mills’ seven children. As soon as he could, Mills went to work, holding various jobs before being drafted December of 1942. He served in the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division and deployed to Europe.

In September 1944, he was part of Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands. The operation failed, with the gliders mostly missing their marks due to weather. All were shot down by enemy fire and either killed or taken prisoner. Mills was reported missing in the vicinity of Wyler and Zyfflich, Germany, near the Dutch border. He was 29.

After Mills was shot down, a chaplain took his dog tags so that the military would know where he was, but when they returned to retrieve his body, they discovered it had been washed away by a flood. Eventually, his remains were recovered and placed in an American military cemetery in Belgium, but he remained unidentified.

That changed in January when the military used DNA from one of his brothers and a maternal cousin, and dental records to identify the remains.

“It’s amazing what they can do as far as DNA,” the niece said.

She said the family had mixed feelings when they heard that Mills’ remains were coming home. They were happy, of course, but it had been so long since Mills went missing that the news dredged up old memories and was overwhelming at times. Once the shock wore off, however, Mills’ niece said that her living uncle was “thrilled” that his brother’s remains would be coming back.

“We just wish the other brothers were here to see it,” she said.

All five brothers served in the military.

As the family tried to gather information about Mills in preparation for his homecoming, they found that family stories were hard to come by. Most of the family members that knew him have passed away and the age gap between Mills and his living brother was so large that the two really didn’t grow up together.

Mills and his wife, Ethel Siscel, had no children, either.

The family did find a military portrait taken of Mills — the photo of him that remains — and there is a headstone in Troy Cemetery with his name on it next to Siscel’s. She is buried there, and Mills will be buried next to her later this month. The family also has Mills’ collection of military accolades: a Purple Heart, the World War II victory badge, the European-African Eastern Campaign badge, the glider pin, the Army Good Conduct medal, assorted cords and a unit citation.

“We didn’t have a lot because it was so long ago,” the niece said.

Mills’ niece will receive the medals on her uncle’s behalf on March 20 at the Indiana Army National Guard Armory in Jasper in a small ceremony for the family.

The family will hold a funeral for Mills on March 30 at Zoercher-Gillick Funeral Home in Tell City. The celebration of life will be from 9 to 11 a.m. with a funeral to follow. During the funeral, members of the 319th Field Artillery regiment out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will provide funeral honors.

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