EUREKA, S.D. (KXNET) — The recently-identified remains of a U.S. Air Force soldier killed during the second world war will finally be coming home.

Walter Nies, a resident of Eureka, South Dakota, was a member of the 96th Bombardment Squadron, 2nd Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 15th Air Force during World War II. During the winter of 1944, when acting as a tail gunner during a bombardment mission to the city of Sofia in Bulgaria, his plane was attacked by German fighters, forcing the pilot to crash land on a beach near Ulcinj, Montenegro. All members of the crew — including the 23-year-old Nies — were captured by the Germans and sent to Stalag Luft 6, a Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Heydekrug, Germany.

On May 28. 1944, Nies was shot and killed in Stalag Luft 6. German reports state that he was attempting to escape the camp — but testimonies from other U.S. prisoners after the war oppose this idea, claiming the young man was simply shot while on his way to the latrine early in the morning.

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC), which searched and recovered deceased Americans in the European Theater, was unable to locate Nies, as post-war border shifting meant that the area was now in Lithuania, a Soviet-occupied zone. In 1948, the AGRC prived the Soviet government with a list of missing Americans whos remains were believed to be in their territory, but he could still not be located. Nies was first declared non-recoverable on March 25, 1954.

After Lithuania became independent in 1992, the U.S. -Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs and the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius discovered that Stalag Luft 6 was destroyed in 1955, and the area was returned to farmland. This area was originally investigated in 2006 by the predecessors to the DPAA (The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office), and while excavation was recommended, issues sprung up that prevented them from sending a recovery team to the site.

In September 2019, a team with Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc. (OVA) investigated the site and found possible gravesites for three missing Americans — including Nies. A joint excavation with a Lithuanian archaeological group resulted in the excavation of all three possible gravesites in August 2021. The remains were then transported to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for analysis.

On August 2, 2022, Nies was accounted for by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), a division of the US Department of Defense, after analyzing the sets of remains found in Stalag Luft’s former encampment. By cross-referencing these remains with material and circumstantial evidence, as well as dental, anthropological, and DNA records, Nies was confirmed to have been identified as one of the buried individuals.

Nies’ name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at Luxembourg American Cemetery, along with many others still missing from WWII. It will remain on the monument, but with a rosette placed next to his name to signify that he has been accounted for.

The remains of Neis will be interred on December 9, at the Johannestal Baptist Cemetery. Graveside services for the U.S. Air Force will be performed by North Dakota’s own Carlsen Funeral Home and Crematory before the internment.

The Department of Defense is on a mission to account for every American who has gone missing serving our country. To learn more about the program, visit the DPAA’s website or Facebook page, or call 703-699-1420/1169.

More information about Staff Sgt. Nies himself can be seen on this page.