TROY, Ind. -- Hundreds of people attended the memorial and funeral of a World War II Soldier in his hometown of Troy, Indiana on March 30, 2019. Most of them never met him.
Pfc. Clifford M. Mills, a Soldier who fought with the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, was buried 75 years after his death during Operation Market Garden in 1944.
Mills was considered Missing in Action since Sept. 18, 1944, after the glider he was in crashed behind enemy lines near Wyler, Germany, until January of this year when his remains were identified by the Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency and transferred back to his hometown on March 28.
Mills' remains were transported from Tell City's Zoercher-Gillick Funeral Home to Troy Cemetery in an elaborate procession consisting of local fire departments, law enforcement and motorcycles flashing red and blue lights.
As the procession made its way, it passed beneath a large American flag attached to the outstretched ladder of a firetruck. Residents of all ages lined the streets or stood in front of public buildings waving American flags or saluting as the procession passed by them.
The Purple Heart recipient was buried with full military honors provided by the 319th Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Abn. Div. from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
"In the 82nd Airborne, we walk in the footsteps of legends," said Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Seymour of the 319th. "With each of these homecomings, we close the gap of those still missing and come closer to fulfilling our promise to never leave a comrade behind."
Currently, there are 72,000 Americans still unaccounted for from World War II.
Seymour presented Mills' 91-year-old brother, Robert Lee Mills, with a folded flag during the burial ceremony Saturday.
Mills was buried next to his wife, Ethel Mills, who died in 2004. She never remarried.
Notably, the efforts of a 33-year-old Dutch man from the Netherlands proved unmeasurable in facilitating the positive identification and homecoming of Mills.
Nowy van Hedel was approved by a volunteer program 12 years ago, which assigned him the name of a Soldier on the Walls of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands.
After over a decade of research conducted in his free time, Hedel submitted his findings to the DPAA in 2017. Scientists from the DPAA were able to make a positive identification. Hedel received the news from Mills' family in January of this year.
"You'd get one lead and search that direction. Then you'd hit a dead end. It went on for 12 years," said Hedel. "When I received the information from the family that there was a 100 percent match, my world was turned upside down. I couldn't believe it."
Hedel keeps a photograph of Mills in his living room. He also continues to help others in identifying unknown Soldiers.
A rosette has been placed next to Mills' name on the wall to indicate he has been accounted for.
"It is like a piece of closure for me," said Hedel holding back tears, "but you also feel the pain because it's a funeral. He died 75 years ago for our freedom."