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DeFuniak Springs, FL...The remains of WWII hero Lt. Ewart T. Sconiers will arrive home in DeFuniak Springs, Florida on Friday, January 26, 2018 to a community homecoming celebrati0n set to begin at 10am. The following day, Lt. Sconiers will be reburied with full military honors next to his mother, Maude Spence Sconiers, in Southwide Baptist Church cemetery in DeFuniak Springs. His homecoming service is scheduled for 11:00 a.m., Saturday, January 27, 2018 at Southwide Baptist Church. Clary-Glenn Funeral Home is handling arrangements. Schedule follows. Public invited and encouraged by the family to participate in all activities.
Sconiers' remains have been missing since 1945, and federal government officials stopped looking for his remains in 1955. In 2006, Sconiers case was reopened by the US Department of Defense's POW/MIA accounting office in Washington, DC among numerous other POW/MIA cases in the European theater. On September 8, 2016, and after ten years of searching, federal officials recovered Sconiers' remains from grave 908 in Wojskowy Cmentarz Francuski, a French military cemetery in Gdansk, Poland. On April 5, 2017, his family received word that positive DNA analysis had been officially confirmed. Sconiers’ recovery is historic in that he was the only American POW unrecovered from Stalag Luft III, the German prison camp made famous by the movie The Great Escape.
During an Aug. 21,1942 mission over France, German fighters viciously and relentlessly attacked, crippling Sconiers’ plane, the Johnny Reb, and exploding the co-pilot’s Plexiglas windscreen, mortally wounding him. The pilot, barely conscious and suffering from burned hands that could no longer control the plane, summoned Sconiers to the cockpit. Bombardier Sconiers took over and flew the shattered, bullet-riddled plane across the English Channel and set it down in England. For this valiant deed and the lives saved, he was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Service Cross. However, his luck ran out a few months later when he and his crew were shot down while bombing the Nazi submarine pens in France.
While imprisoned in SLIII, POW Sconiers worked security under the supervision of POW Lt. Col. A.P. Clark for those digging the famous tunnel. Sconiers later died under mysterious circumstances, and on a frigid day in January 1944, six of his fellow POWs, accompanied by Germans, buried him in the municipal cemetery in what is now Lubin, Poland, an hour from the site of SLIII.
Officially notified of his death and spending decades unsuccessfully trying to find him, Sconiers’ family was convinced they knew his fate—shot trying to escape and thrown in an unmarked mass grave. His mother, sister, and brother (Kenneth Sconiers, of Panama City) died with such anguish, certain their Ewart was forever lost. Sconiers’ widow, the former Ina Bobelle Wright of the Ft. Walton area, also thought Ewart was shot trying to escape SLIII. In 1955, after being the first woman to complete a pharmacy degree at Auburn (graduating at the top of her class), flying routes for the Civil Air Patrol, and learning Ewart had been declared “unrecoverable,” Bobelle married Phillip Harrell. Together they owned and operated Harrell’s Brentwood Drugstore, were actively involved in their community, and had five daughters, two of whom live in the Northwest Florida area. In 2012, Bobelle was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for the Civil Air Patrol.
Pamela says, “Destiny yanked me into the middle of my uncle’s story Oct. 21, 2008, the anniversary of the day he was captured.” Beginning in 2006, and without any family or political pressure, DPAA’s Chief John Gray followed leads to Lubin, Poland and reopened Sconiers’ case. Case files confirmed Sconiers had initially been buried in the POW section of a Lubin municipal cemetery (which became Allies Park), next to five Frenchmen. But, his story was unfinished, and the truth insisted on being told. Thanks to DPAA and Sconiers’ Promise Keepers, Bobelle lived long enough to learn some of it.
Sconiers died of dramatic complications of an untreated ear infection and was, indeed, ceremoniously buried by his fellow POWs in Allies Park. However, Bobelle passed away before his remains were found.
DPAA conducted an exploratory mission in Lubin in 2011. Since the former cemetery hid hundreds of unmarked graves, scientific data was needed to identify Sconiers’ likely burial site. Thanks to contributions of family and friends and sponsorship by DHL Global Shipping, Dr. Jarrod Burks of Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc. was able to volunteer his professional time and expertise to conduct a geophysical survey of Allies Park. Without such data, DPAA’s search surely would have been stalled. Dr. Burks presented his findings to DPAA in 2012. In August 2015, newly reorganized DPAA offered its first third-party contract to Dr. Burks to excavate grave sites in the northeast corner of Allies Park where it was believed Sconiers was buried with other POWs. It was during that mission, and with no evidence of Sconiers’ remains, that a staggering twist of destiny revealed Sconiers’ grave. Long-time volunteer, independent researcher Marilyn Walton of New Albany, OH, was searching online for information to assist Dr. Burks. Instead, she discovered a photo of a cross with Sconiers’ name on it in the French military cemetery in Gdansk, Poland.
DPAA responded quickly to Sconiers’ team’s research. They learned that post-war, Russia gave France permission to recover its fallen in Poland, while still barring the U.S. from doing so. Aware all markers would be erased from the Lubin cemetery, the French recovered their five fallen and took ally Sconiers’ remains for reburial in Gdansk. Had it not been for the earnest commitment of DPAA’s Johnie E. Webb and Col. Christopher Forbes to persist “until they are home” and the dedication of Sconiers’ Promise Keepers, his remains might never have been found.
The best and final chapter in this incredible story will occur when the dedicated Promise Keepers gather to witness Sconiers’ historic reburial, at which sons and daughters of the original burial contingent will stand in their fathers’ places, recognizing the sacrifice and valor of one man—Stalag Luft III’s last man out.
The journey to recover Sconiers was led by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) and a selfless team of promise keepers from the U.S., Belgium, and Poland. Sconiers’ niece, Pamela Sconiers Whitelock, formerly of Panama City, serves as his official next-of-kin and the person authorized to direct disposition of his remains (PADD).
To follow the story, see http://www.BringSconiersHome.com