Remains of Schuylkill County native killed in WWI recovered

| December 7, 2010 | 0 Comments

By John E. Usalis / Staff Writer

Published: December 3, 2010 via Republican Herald

After 92 years in an unmarked grave in France, the remains of Army Pvt. Henry A. Weikel will return to his native Schuylkill County next week for a religious service and burial.

Weikel was killed in action in World War I on Sept. 16, 1918, at the age of 28 in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, which is in northeastern France. The battle lasted from Sept. 12 to 19, with the American Expeditionary Force reclaiming the area from German forces.

During a 2006 Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command recovery mission in Europe, a local French resident, Elisabeth Gozzo, told the team about possible remains of American soldiers that had been found. The JPAC team visited the site and found the remains of three soldiers, including Weikel.

According to a report from JPAC, the other soldiers who were found were Pvt. Carl H. Willig and Pvt. Thomas D. Costello. A fourth soldier listed as “missing in action” at the battlefield was Sgt. William Wood, but his remains were not found.

There were 29 soldiers killed Sept. 16, with the four MIAs unaccounted for, the JPAC report stated. Battles in the area lasted about four weeks, with three American units engaging the enemy in the same area, which apparently resulted in the loss of the burial marker due to continued shelling and digging for fighting positions. There were subsequent searches of the area after the war, but no remains were found.

According to the JPAC report, some records indicated that Weikel was born and raised in Lavelle, the son of Henry and Eliza Weikel. The report also noted, however, that Weikel “hailed from Mount Carmel,” citing World War I Selective Service System draft registration cards from Northumberland County.

Army representatives recently contacted Weikel’s niece, Rosemary Weikel Wesner, who resided at the Mahanoy City High Rise at the time, and her daughter, Debra Coleman, Maple Hill, Mahanoy Township.

“My mother and I only learned about this a few weeks ago,” Coleman said. “We didn’t even know he was missing in action because it was so long ago. My mom is 80 years old, and she went into a nursing home yesterday (Tuesday). I can’t believe all of this is happening all at the same time.”

Weikel was killed 12 years before his niece was born, which added to the lack of information.

“My mom was born in 1930, so she didn’t even know him,” Coleman said.

After Wesner and Coleman received the news, they contacted Louis D. Truskowsky Funeral Home, Mahanoy City, to make the arrangements, and worked with the military on the planning.

Coleman said the funeral service and interment will bring closure to Weikel’s life and the ultimate sacrifice he made.

“At least now he can be buried with honors, which proves that the United States is one of the best places to live anywhere because we honor our brave soldiers,” Coleman said.

Weikel’s remains will be returned Monday from Hawaii to the Philadelphia International Airport, where he will receive military honors on the tarmac about noon. His remains will travel to Mahanoy City with a Pennsylvania State Police escort, arriving at the Truskowsky funeral home about 3 p.m.

A public viewing will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and the funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 9 at the funeral home with the Rev. Dr. John Reid, pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Mahanoy City, officiating. A burial ceremony with full military honors, along with an escort by the Patriot Guard and state police, will be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 9 at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, Annville.

Weikel will posthumously receive the Purple Heart, World War I Victory Medal with France Service Clasp, Mihiel Battle Crest with Bronze Service Star, and the World War I Victory Button in Silver. Coleman will accept the medals and the American flag at the cemetery.

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