DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -- In the small town of Defuniak Springs, tucked behind a church, lies a quiet graveyard.
In August 2015, after decades of searching for Ewart Sconiers' remains, a picture of a cross was uploaded to the website billiongraves.com. It was the beginning of the end of the quest for Sconiers.
A simple online search will tell you that's where Army 1st. Lt. Ewart Sconiers is set to be buried.
But his journey to finally come home—that's a story that only his niece, Pamela Sconiers Whitelock—can tell.
Ewart Sconiers died in the infamous German POW camp, Stalag Luft III.
His family says decades ago, they were shown a photo of his burial, which they brushed off as fake.
"They thought he was shot trying to escape, and thrown in a mass grave, Pamela Whitelock said. “That's what we'd always heard. Their image of a prison camp didn't include such a formality. Plus, there was the tell-tale swastika, and that said it all to my father and his mother. So they thought it was propaganda."
The US government had declared Ewart Sconiers unrecoverable in 1955, but his case was reopened in 2006. Whitelock says, destiny yanked her into her uncle's unfinished story.
In 2007, she met a POW from Stalag Luft III, who was present at Sconiers’ burial. He confirmed that the photos were real, and Sconiers had actually died from an untreated ear infection. He was buried in what is now a public park in Lubin, Poland. It was now up to archaeologists to find him.
But after searching, his remains were not found.
in August 2015 Marilyn Walton, part of the team looking for Sconiers, found a recently uploaded photo of a cross from a French military cemetery in Gdansk Poland, three hours from where archaeological teams had been digging for Sconiers.
"We still get chills when we think about it,” Walton said. “We could not believe how the timing of if all; and the way that it popped up was just stunning. I think I sat here for a long time and wide-eyed.”
She immediately called Whitelock and e-mailed the archaeologists who had been working Sconiers' case.
For Whitelock, it was a plot twist she couldn't have imagined.
"As we learned, the French recovered his remains, and they moved him to another cemetery,” Whitelock said.
After the war, the Soviets allowed the French to recover their war dead from Polish cemeteries, a luxury that was never afforded to the United States.
"Either they thought he was french or they recognized most likely, he was an ally,” Whitelock said. They knew if they didn't remove him, those remains could be lost forever."
The remains were located in September 2015, and positively identified and brought back to the United States in November 2016.
It was a surreal ending for the team of people – dubbed “Ewart's Army – who thought this could never be a reality.
“It's a mixture of people who are former strangers, who are bound by a commitment to respect for the price paid for freedom,” Whitelock said.
“One is an American who lives and works there in Poland, and who's office once was a hospital where my uncle was taken. There are others here in our country, who out of their passionate commitment, came together and provided bits and pieces. It's amazing how different people emerged at just the right time. There are about 12 people who have been intimately involved in this journey.”
Sconiers is eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery - an honor, Whitelock said. But perhaps not what Sconiers would have wanted.
"I have 70 letters that he wrote home from that prison camp, and I talked to his widow, and I've talked to my family,” Whitelock said. “What my uncle wanted more than anything was to come home, and live his life, and that's where he'll be."
73 years later, Sconiers will buried here..beside his mother and sister, finally home in Defuniak Springs. In a plot left untouched for decades.
“It's for Uncle Ewart, as if it's been waiting for him,” Whitelock said.
Lt. Ewart Sconiers will be buried in January 2018 in Defuniak Springs.