Persistence solves mystery of WWI funeral flag returned to family

Greeneville , TN

In February 2023, Rich Urban walked into the newsroom of the Greeneville Sun with a century-old mystery to share. Urban is a veteran of the Air Force and adjutant of American Legion Post 64, Greeneville, Tenn. Urban went to The Sun and explained that a 48-star American flag was brought to the local Legion by a lady from a local church where it had been stored that recently closed. An engraved plaque on the case reads "James Henry White, France - 1918." If you've ever been to a military funeral, where a folded American flag is presented to the family, you understand the significance and symbolism that flag now holds. It is a tangible reminder that a family can see and feel once everything else is gone. Urban started searching for descendants of White. Urban said, "I'd like to see it get back to family if it's at all possible."

All Urban could find was information from the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial Association, submitted by a "Cynthia Cox." The newsroom staff recommended Urban visit two places: the T. Elmer Cox Historical & Genealogical Library and the Greeneville-Greene County History Museum. Urban returned to the newsroom in March with documentation from the library but still no connections to family. Amy Rose, staff writer with the Sun, noticed that a photo submitted to the library was submitted by a "Cyndy Cox." This variation of the name was all it took to return a hit on Facebook.

White was born in the Rheatown community of eastern Greene County and was killed in action during a battle in France. He died Oct. 10, 1918, one day after his 26th birthday. He was an Army private first class, who was severely injured by shrapnel and died on the way to the first-aid station in the Meuse-Argonne Offense on Hill 180 near Cernoy, France. He was buried on Oct. 12, 1918, at Chatel Chateau Flower Garden Cross Cemetery. White's mother wanted his body brought home after the war; it was returned and reinterred in Rheatown Cemetery.

In March, the mystery was solved and the flag returned back to a family member. On April 4, 2023, Urban's persistence paid off with a trip to the home of Cynthia Cox in Knoxville, where he delivered the flag for her great-great-uncle, James "Henry" White. Cox said, "I really appreciate that. It's absolutely beautiful." Credit goes out to Amy Rose, the Greeneville Sun and Richard Urban for returning the flag.

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