A Century After World War 1, Search For A Soldier’s Identity

French forensic pathologist Bruno Fremont inspects remains of an unknown soldier. (Reuters)


In a hospital mortuary in eastern France, the forensic doctor Bruno Fremont examines a gaping hole in the skull of a soldier killed by shrapnel a century ago, at the Battle of Verdun during World War One.

Laid out on a white sheet are the combatant’s near-complete skeleton, many of the bones blackened, and his leather boots, the laces tied tight. What’s missing is the soldier’s ID tag.

For months, Fremont has searched for clues as to the identity of the soldier, whose remains were found in March by workmen resurfacing a road. He has all but lost hope. A DNA test is useless without a known relative to compare against.

“A tag is the only item that would have allowed us to formally identify him,” said Fremont, acknowledging the sadness and frustration of not being able to make an identification.

“The boots are those that were on his feet when he died, and they are French army boots. But they’re not proof of his nationality. On his left side he carried a wallet that contained two French coins. And we found a gas mask near his skull, a French-issued M2 gas mask.

“So in all likelihood he was French. But we cannot be wholly certain.”

A century after the end of the war, President Emmanuel Macron will lead commemorations to mark the anniversary this weekend. World leaders will attend, including U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But even as the world marks the…

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