WWII Soldier from Bolivar found in Belgium returns home

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – James J. Cansler fought and died in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest in Vossenack, Germany. 77 years after his death, he will be laid to eternal rest in Springfield.

Cansler – known as Junior – died at 21-years-old. Back in December 1944, Cansler and other soldiers were working to secure a road and a section of the forest. He was last seen at the edge of the forest and was reported missing the next day.

“As far as I know he didn’t have children, he’d never been married,” Nephew Jimmy Keith said.

Cansler left behind his sister, who was Keith’s mother.

“After they found him I thought it was too bad mom couldn’t have lived longed enough to know that,” Keith said.

After World War II, the American Graves Registration Command searched for the remains of U.S. soldiers throughout Europe. The first attempt to locate Cansler was between 1946 and 1950. In 1951, Cansler was classified as “non-recoverable.” 74 years later, things changed.

“[The Department of the Army] asked me 5 or 6 years ago for DNA samples and I submitted,” Keith said. “The mine and Junior’s mitochondrial DNA matched.”

A historian working for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) found unidentified remains in a minefield north of Vossenack in 1946. These remains belonged to Cansler. He wasburied in 1950 at Ardennes American Cemetery. DPAA locates Military Personnel who were Prisoners of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA). Today, there are over 72,000 World War II Soldiers unaccounted for. 2,047 are from Missouri.

Cansler’s remains were taken to the DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska in June 2018. Scientists used dental and anthropological evidence, along with DNA evidence from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, to confirm Cansler’s identity on Jan. 29, 2020.

“When it comes to military things they step in and reassure a majority of things are done,” Vice President of Greenlawn Funeral Home Inc. Jason Diemer said. “In situations like this, they leave it up to family to choose the funeral home.”

Cansler will be laid to eternal rest at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery in Springfield on July 7, 2021. Greenlawn Funeral Homes will be hosting a ceremony for the burial. Anyone interested in joining the burial procession is asked to line up along West Battlefield Road near Kansas Expressway at 9:30 a.m. Attendees can also proceed directly to the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery at 5201 S. Southwood Rd. The service will begin at 10 a.m.

“Mr. Cansler made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. He should be honored as so,” Diemer said. “It’s a tribute to him to have people show up and say hey you know, it’s a long time coming to get him back to the Ozarks.”

James J. Cansler was a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

Because Cansler’s remains were not identified until 2020, his name was already listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. Now that his remains have been accounted for, a rosette will be placed next to his name.

Anyone with questions about the procession or service is asked to call Greenlawn Funeral Homes.

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