Fallen soldier's remains returned to U.S. after 170 years - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Fallen soldier's remains returned to U.S. after 170 years

Members of the U.S. military conduct 'the solemn movement' of one of two flag-draped transfer cases containing skeletal remains unearthed from what was the Mexican War battlefield. (SOURCE: MTSU) Members of the U.S. military conduct 'the solemn movement' of one of two flag-draped transfer cases containing skeletal remains unearthed from what was the Mexican War battlefield. (SOURCE: MTSU)
Dover Air Force Base, Del (WMC) -

Honor. Dignity. Sacrifice. Words often associated with flag draped coffins accompanied by saluting military service members. 

For 170 years, American soldiers lay on the foreign soil where they gave their lives. Now they're home, and one college professor is planning to ensure the soldiers continue to give and benefit many generations to come.

Hugh Berryman, director of MTSU's Forensic Institute of Research and Education, stood and watched as 13 skeletal remains from a Mexican War battlefield were returned to American soil. 

But for Berryman, standing on the flight line at Dover Air Force Base as the two flag-draped transfer cases were carried with precision and honor from the Army C-12 aircraft by Army soldiers, he knew his work is only beginning.

The flag-draped transfer cases are believed to hold the remains of a member of the Tennessee militia who died in the Battle of Monterrey in 1848.  Seeing the remains finally returned home to America is the culmination of five years of diplomatic negotiation that was started because of Berryman's urging.

"We hope to have findings that allow a deeper understanding of the men who gave their lives in the engagement at La Teneria," Berryman said. "The skeleton is excellent at recording its own history."

The Middle Tennessee State University anthropology professor said by studying the remains of the soldier, it will allow interpretation of the quality of life of mid-19th century American soldiers, their overall health conditions, and perhaps how their wounded were treated. In fact, there is a small possibility they may even be able to identify the remains.

"The bones can provide a window through which to examine the aftermath of battle during the Mexican-American War," Berryman said. 

The remains were first discovered in 1996 at the location of an apartment and parking complex being built in Monterrey near the Tannery Fort site. Historical evidence, which includes uniform buttons and coins, indicated the remains were likely those of Tennesseans of Mississippians who fought in the battle.

That sparked negotiations between the United States and Mexico to have the remains returned to their homeland.

"After five years of ongoing negotiations with the Mexican government, we have finally returned our fallen Volunteer State heroes back to American soil," Representative Diane Black said. Black's office joined the push to get the remains returned to the United States in 2011.

Two years later, U.S. Representative Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg) asked the Department of Defense to secure the remains and for them to be allowed to be buried in the Gallatin City Cemetery, home of the Mexican-American War memorial. 

Berryman will be joined on the project to study the remains by Shannon Hodge, an associate professor and a bio-archaeologist with a specialty in paleopathology, and Derek Frisby, a faculty member and military historian in the Global Studies Department. 

The Mexican-American War, although a frequently forgotten part of U.S. military history, sealed Tennessee's reputation as the 'Volunteer State.'

The Battle of Monterrey was held in September 1846. However, the First Tennessee suffered approximately 26 killed-in-action and 77 wounded, nearly twice that of the Mississippi Regiment.

From that day forward, the Tennessee regiment has been referred to as the "Bloody First."

Because of logistical difficulties in the 19th century of transporting the bodies of the dead soldiers, many of those who were killed were likely buried near the Tannery Fort site in hastily-covered mounds on the roadside. These sites were often disturbed by animals and partially exposed.

But, the next 150 years after the war brought about rapid growth for the area and caused the burial site and battlefield to be lost. In 1996, construction of an apartment/parking complex revealed the remains believed to belong to an American killed during the Battle of Monterrey.

Those remains were able to finally come back home to American on Wednesday, September 28, with all the military honors and respect they deserve.

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