GIBSON CITY — It always bothered Lyle Brotherton that youngest brother Clarence’s body had never been accounted for during the brutal battle of the Hurtgen Forest in late 1944, as U.S. forces advanced into Germany during World War II.
Their nephew, John Brotherton of Rantoul, said Lyle spent a great deal of time searching for his brother, a private first class in the U.S. Army, after the war.
The search has finally ended. The rural Gibson City native’s body is coming home. He will be laid to rest next month in Gibson City with full military honors. John Brotherton said the date has not been set.
Pfc. Brotherton will be posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Victory in Europe Medal and two campaign medals.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Monday that Pfc. Brotherton, 20, had been accounted for in April 2020 — three-quarters of a century after his death in one of the most brutal battles of the war. His family was only notified of the identification recently.
Two photos of that era show the three Brotherton brothers — Clarence, Lyle and John Sr. — smiling in uniform outside their brick home. A couple believed to be their parents stand behind them in one photo.
While Lyle was assigned to grave registration — “His job was to go around and pick up the dead bodies and get their body bags,” nephew John said — John Sr. was a belly gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress, but the war ended before he had to go overseas.
He said Lyle stayed in Europe after the war, looking for his brother.
“I think he actually went AWOL,” John said. “He went to all the cemeteries and hospitals looking and could find nothing. I figured if he couldn’t do it with his knowledge of ... the intricacies (of the system), he wasn’t going to be easily found.
“My cousin said it affected my uncle the rest of his life. He felt it was an obligation he could not fulfill.”
John Brotherton never knew his uncles but learned Clarence was a quiet man.
“He wasn’t a drinker,” Brotherton said. “When he would go out with his friends, he would drink milk and take the guys home. He was that kind of a person. He was their youngest and was kind of protected and well-loved.”
John Brotherton said his uncles lived with their parents on a farm in rural Gibson City in their younger years before the family moved to town when the Great Depression was at its peak.
He said the long wait for word on his uncle’s remains has caused a great deal of heartache for the family.
Pfc. Brotherton was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. He was killed in action on Oct. 14, 1944, as his unit battled German forces near Germeter, Germany. His remains could not be recovered because of the ongoing fighting.
John Brotherton said his uncle was declared legally dead in 1951.
The American Graves Registration Command was given the assignment of investigating and recovering missing American personnel in Europe following the war. It was unable to identify Pfc. Brotherton’s remains despite conducting several investigations in the Hurtgen area between 1946 and 1950.
A break happened when a historian working for the POW/MIA Accounting Agency was studying unresolved American losses in the Raffelsbrand area and discovered that two sets of co-mingled, unidentified remains had been recovered from that area in 1946 and were possibly linked to Pfc. Brotherton.
The remains had been buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in eastern Belgium in 1950. They were disinterred in September 2017 and sent to the agency’s lab at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for identification. Dental and anthropological analysis as well as circumstantial evidence was used alongside mitochondrial DNA analysis to identify the remains.
Pfc. Brotherton’s name is among those on the Walls of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margarten. A rosette will be placed next to it there to indicate he has been accounted for.
The bloody Battle of Hurtgen Forest took place from Sept. 19 to Dec. 16, 1944, and preceded the German offensive known as The Battle of the Bulge. It occurred over a 52-square-mile area east of the Belgian-German border and was the longest battle on German ground during the war and is still the single-longest battle the U.S. Army has ever fought.
At least 33,000 — and possibly as many as 55,000 — U.S. soldiers were killed and wounded. German casualties were estimated at 28,000. While the U.S. eventually took the area, the battle was considered a German victory due to the heavy U.S. casualties.
In addition to German troops defending their homeland, conditions were exacerbated by dense forest, rough terrain and cold, wet, cloudy weather, resulting in a muddy morass.
The Germans had prepared the area, which was essentially the Siegfried Line, with minefields, barbed wire, booby traps, concrete bunkers and blockhouses.