BOISE — Over 75 years since the disappearance of Private First Class Lawrence "Mike" Worthen during World War II, his family has some closure.
In a service Friday, Worthen’s remains, identified earlier this year after being found in Germany, were honorably laid to rest at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in Boise. A group of family, strangers and members of the U.S. Army and the Patriot Guard Riders attended the ceremony to pay their respects.
Worthen’s disappearance in 1944 was a mystery that stumped many of his loved ones for the rest of their lives.
"It was something that was always unresolved in the family," said Vivian Wardwell, Worthen's niece.
On Friday, Worthen's younger half-sister, Mary Terry, was given the American flag that was draped over her brother's casket. Terry, now 81, was only 5 when Worthen disappeared. She is his last-living sister.
Forty or so people, many of whom were Patriot Guard Riders, came to the veterans cemetery on a sunny Friday afternoon to pay tribute to a man most never knew. A 21-gun salute and the taps were played in Worthen's honor.
"I'm certain as Lawrence was serving so bravely in Europe that he was thinking, 'Man, there is no place like home,'" Pastor Don Morrison said during the service. "And so finally, 75 years later, we get to say, welcome home, Lawrence. Welcome home."
Worthen, from California, enlisted in the Army at age 19 on Feb. 12, 1943, in Los Angeles. He was deployed to the European theatre during World War II, where he fought for about a year before he was declared missing in action.
Worthen walked with his infantry — the 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division — during the Liberation of Paris following the Allies' deadly, but successful, attacks on Normandy, France, according to Wardwell.
It wasn’t long after the celebration from victory that Worthen's infantry planned to move into Germany to capture the city of Wettlingen. During that push, the infantry was attacked. The soldiers had to retreat, and 238 were killed.
Worthen was not part of the retreat, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. On Sept. 17, 1944, he was listed as missing in action. It wasn’t until Sept. 18, 1945, that he was presumed killed in action.
Worthen’s family had known of an organization actively searching for remains of soldiers killed in action, including their loved one.
At the end of July, Wardwell said her brother got an email from Michael Mee, the chief of identifications with the Past Conflict Repatriations Branch, who said they had positively identified their uncle.
“It was kind of shocking," Wardwell said. "It was this weird euphoria, like, this is really happening. They really have him. It was very incredible."
Lee Tucker, with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, told the Idaho Press that a mass grave had been found in Germany in 2017, and 13 of the bodies were American soldiers. Bodies of soldiers were buried by German civilians at the time. Worthen was one of a couple soldiers who could not be identified and was moved to a cemetery in Luxembourg before being brought to the U.S., his niece said.
By April of this year, Worthen's remains were transferred to a lab in the U.S. to be identified, Tucker said.
The agency used dental records, anthropological analysis and a chest x-ray to positively declare the body as Worthen's. On July 23, Worthen, who had been off American soil for over 27,000 days, was officially accounted for.
The Department of Defense's POW/MIA accounting agency works to find and identify the more than 81,000 soldiers who are still unaccounted for throughout the world, Tucker said. Those include personnel who lost their lives in Word War II, and the Korean, Cold and Gulf wars.
The agency researches each person's case and sends recovery teams out in the field to find evidence or remains, which is then transported to one of a few laboratories in the U.S. to identify them, Tucker said.
Wardwell is appreciative of the work the agency does, even when there are soldiers who might not have any family left.
"It's fantastic the job that they're doing," she said.
'NO PLACE LIKE HOME'
Worthen's remains arrived at Gowen Field in Boise on Oct. 18. He was honorably transferred to Bowman Funeral Parlor by the Patriot Guard Riders, who also attended his service Friday. The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery was chosen as his final resting place because he has family living in Idaho.
Terry, Worthen's sister, remembers their mother staring out the window crying for her son when he was reported missing, Wardell told the Idaho Press. Terry is the last living sibling who remembers him.
Terry also remembered Worthen would throw her into the air when she was a little girl. He always seemed to wear his hat just a little crooked, Wardwell said.
Through the years, Memorial Day always struck Wardwell the most when remembering her then-missing uncle.
"I had a different perspective because of my uncle," she said about the holiday. "It's more remember the fallen and missing."
Worthen went by Mike, and signed his letters to his mom with that name, though Wardwell has no idea why. His brother, Clarence, who has since died, went by Ike. They were the Mike and Ike, she laughed.
After many years of uncertainty, the family now has about a 50-page book Wardwell said Mee put together about what was known of Worthen and the time he served across seas, starting from the parade in Paris.
At the closing of Worthen's ceremony Friday, Pastor Morrison wrapped up with a prayer.
"There's no more questions. No more doubts," he said. "Lawrence is home."