Soldier's remains returned home after 63 years

Julian Rogers
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Updated: .
Jennie Runevitch/Eyewitness News

Monroe County - A Bloomington family got the news on Thanksgiving Day 1944 that their soldier was missing in action in Germany. What happened to him stayed a mystery for decades - until now.

"You know, I was young. I didn't know him," said Connie Conard.

For years, all Conrad and her family had was a name on the Monroe County courthouse World War Two memorial.

"I would have like to have known him, but I didn't," she said.

Private First Class Julian "Harold" Rogers was one of the missing. Rogers was a young married soldier with a baby girl who went to war and never came home. He left a family with too few memories and too many questions. Connie Conard is his daughter.

"Last I saw him, he was going up the stairs at the train depot in indianapolis," said Elsie Evans, Rogers' widow.

"It's something you never think would happen, you know?" said Conard.

It was 1944 when PFC Rogers left the rolling hills of Bloomington for the battlefields of Germany. His unit quickly moved into the heart of the Hurtgen Forest, which would become one of the longest running battles in US history.

"They say that was the darkest forest of anyplace in Germany. And that's where. He said he was going in. And that's the last I heard of him," said Evans.

"Thanksgiving Day of 1944, they came to the door," said Conard.

"Said he was missing in action," said Evans. "It was just shock, that was all."

Elsie without a husband. Phyllis Weddle was without a brother. And Connie Conard, just two years old at the time, would never know her dad. Rogers' remains were never found.

"It's hard. Not to have a closure like that and have a body that you can bury," said Weddle.

But it was a reality they lived with for years, which is why Conard was so surprised to get a phone call six decades later about her father.

"And she said there's a possibility they have found your father's remains," said Conard. "Now she said don't hold your breath because she said you know the Army's very slow. And at that time, I said yes, I do. They're 63 years slow."

Some 63 years after Rogers disappeared, a German citizen with a metal detector made a discovery. He was searching for wartime relics at the very battlefield on which Rogers fought.

"They said he found a tooth, and then he found this metal dogtag," said Conard.

"But then Connie called me and said they found him," said Weddle.

"It was my dad," said Conard.

Julian Rogers was no longer lost. His family could finally lay their loved one to rest, and Conard knew just the place.

"I can bring him home and bury him in the family plot or out there by his mother, my grandmother, but one of these days, there'll be none of us here and he'll just be another stone sitting alongside of the road. If I take him to Arlington, he'll be honored from now on and I just think that's the best I can do.I think he's fought his battle and it's time that he was honored for it."

On a sunny spring day where row upon row of American soldiers are remembered, Julian Rogers received a final salute.

"It was just an answered prayer to know that he's back here, in the United States, and he's at rest now," said Weddle.

Julian Rogers' remains were returned from Europe to full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, more than 60 years after making the ultimate sacrifice.

"I think he spent enough time away from us," said Conard.

For Conard, it's a homecoming fit for a hero. "He's home, and he'll be honored at Arlington from now on and that's all I wanted"

It was a lasting tribute to the father she never knew.

Connie Conard says the discovery of her father's remains came at an especially poignant time. She got the call that they'd found her dad the same day her grandson was visiting Arlington and placing a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns.