ROGERSVILLE – U.S. Army Private First Class Lewis E. “Luke” Price, who was killed during WWII in Germany, came “home,” to Rogersville on Friday night, Dec. 7.
It was a homecoming that was 74 years in the making.
The remains of PFC Price, which had only been identified through DNA earlier this year, arrived at Tri-Cities Airport about 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, aboard a Delta Airlines flight. Members of PFC Price’s family, including his granddaughter Rhonda Price, of Bean Station, traveled to the airport to meet his remains in a convoy of vehicles from Christian-Sells Funeral Home in Rogersville.
Escorting the convoy of vehicles was Hawkins County Sheriff’s Deputy Stacy Vaughan. He was joined on the return journey from the airport by a Tennessee Highway Patrol State Trooper in a THP patrol vehicle.
Also traveling to the airport was a funeral honors detail of U.S. Army soldiers from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The team removed PFC Price’s flag-draped coffin from the Delta Air Lines Airbus and carried it to a waiting bier where it sat while family members took closer, emotional looks at the coffin and the American flag with which it was draped.
The soldiers subsequently moved the flag-draped coffin into a waiting Christian-Sells hearse for the ride back to Hawkins County where a graveside service, with full military honors, beside his parents in Rogersville’s Highland Cemetery, is set for 2 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14.
Price’s niece, Carolyn Carroll, of Bean Station, said that her uncle was married and had a son named Ronnie when he died in 1944 in heavy fighting between German and American forces in a dense German forest.
His widow subsequently remarried and both she and the couple’s son have since passed away. Carolyn said.
But unknown to the Rogersville-area relatives of PFC Lewis E. Price was that he also had a granddaughter named Rhonda Price, who also lives in Bean Station.
Rhonda is the daughter of Lewis E. Price’s late son, Ronnie, who passed away about 10 years ago.
The leader of the team of soldiers from Fort Campbell who accompanied PFC Price’s remains to Rogersville, gave Rhonda Price one of PFC Price’s two military “dog tags” (metal identification tags). The other tag remained attached to PFC Price’s coffin.
Prior to the recent discovery of granddaughter Rhonda Price, the closest Hawkins County relatives were believed to be Price’s nieces and nephews, according to Carolyn, who noted that her older brother, Leon, who lives in Morristown, was consider by the Department of Defense to be Lewis E. Price’s closest living relative. She and Gene Price, of Rogersville, were next in line among his closest living relatives, according to the DoD.
Leon said he was about nine years of age when he last saw his uncle Lewis E. “Luke” Price alive. Leon said he remembered Price as a “rough, tough man,” and recalled that he had been working construction, helping to build the Norris Lake Dam, before he entered military service.
“I bet he made a good soldier,” Leon said of his ancestor.
Carolyn Carroll said Price was her mother’s brother and that she had known little about him other than that he had been declared dead by the Army during WWII.
Ironically, she said, she had spent 13 months in Germany during the late 1960s while her husband, Wade Carroll, was serving in the U.S. Army in southern Germany and had not known that her uncle’s name was listed among the names of the American WWII dead and missing on a monument in the an American cemetery in the Netherlands.
“I might have passed by the monument,” she said, noting that her Uncle Luke’s remains were identified “by accident” only recently.
She explained that when the family of another unidentified soldier asked the Army to attempt to use DNA to identify that soldier, they inadvertently submitted an incorrect identification number for that soldiers’ remains. That number actually had been assigned to the remains of PFC Lewis E. Price, Carolyn said. And when the DNA test was done, the first family didn’t find a match as a result. the Army then began a search to identify the remains that turned out to be those of Price.
That search led, eventually to the surviving family members – Leon, Gene and Carolyn in Northeast Tennessee.
Carolyn said Leon got the ball rolling by signing the required Department of Defense paperwork and that he, Gene and she all submitted DNA samples. They subsequently learned that their DNA samples were a “perfect match” with the remains that were declared to be those of Price.
During a subsequent meeting with military authorities, she said, the family agreed that their uncle’s remains should be returned to his native Hawkins County for burial.
But the miracles didn’t end there, Carolyn said, noting that she remembered that Lewis Price’s mother and father had kept a burial plot – possibly for him – beside their graves in Highland Cemetery. After some research, it was confirmed that the plot beside the graves of his father and mother – Christopher Columbus “Clum” Price and Sallie Yount Price – was still available in Highland Cemetery. Lewis will be laid to rest beside his parents in his native soil as a result.
A graveside service for Lewis E. “Luke” Price is scheduled for 2 p.m., Fri., Dec. 14 in Highland Cemetery. Christian-Sells Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.