When her big brother, Eugene, left Lincoln to join the Army during World War II, 13-year-old Ella Mae McBride begged him to stay.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. “I’ll be back.”
Then in February 1945, the uniformed officers knocked on the door of the McBride home on South 12th Street. Eugene, a sergeant in the 311th Infantry Regiment, was missing in Germany. Later, he was declared dead, but his body was never recovered.
The McBride family — including his parents, Rufus and Rosalie McBride, sisters Elaine, Donna and Ella Mae, and his bride, Eileen — would place a grave marker in Lincoln Memorial Park.
“That was the closure for them. That’s the only reason,” said Ella Mae McBride Kubes, who is 87 and still lives in Lincoln.
On Monday, Sgt. Eugene McBride will keep his promise to his little sister. After years buried in Europe in a grave marked “unknown,” the casket carrying his now-identified remains, draped in an American flag, will come home for burial in the empty grave.
Scientists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lab at Offutt Air Force Base solved the case.
“It’s kind of unreal, 73 years later,” Kubes said.
Ella Mae remembers Eugene as a “great brother” who looked out for his three younger sisters.
“He was protective,” she said. “‘Where are you going, what are you doing, who are you coming home with?’”
Rufus McBride owned a garage, and Eugene helped him out there. He enlisted after high school, in March 1943, shortly before his 19th birthday. He was sent overseas in September 1944, during the Allies’ long, slow, bloody advance across northern France. His unit was caught up in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, which lasted almost six months and was the longest single battle the U.S. Army ever fought.
Eugene McBride was killed along with most of his squad on Jan. 30, 1945, when an enemy artillery shell struck a shed they had just entered near Huppenbroich, Germany. Only one man survived.
Within three weeks, a set of remains was recovered, but with no tags or identifying marks. They were noted as “X-90 Margraten” and buried as unknown in the Margraten cemetery.
The body was later dug up by the American Graves Registration Service, whose investigators suspected that X-90 Margraten might be McBride. But it couldn’t be proven. So in 1952, the remains were reburied in the Rhone American Cemetery in France.
They remained there undisturbed until a year ago, when historians reviewed the file of X-90 Margraten and determined that it likely was McBride. Someone contacted Kubes for a DNA sample. She told them that it wouldn’t help because Eugene had been adopted by their parents.
Instead, the Accounting Agency’s scientists studied bones and chest X-rays, as well as personal effects found with him, to identify McBride.
“I’m elated,” Kubes said. “He’s finally going to be here.”
Graveside services will be held at Lincoln Memorial Park at 11 a.m. Monday.