Flag-draped caskets containing the remains of 28 American soldiers killed and buried in Canada during the War of 1812 have been returned to U.S. soil.
Dark clouds hung overhead as Canadian, American and British flags flew at half-staff over Old Fort Erie, where American and Canadian forces engaged in battle 176 years ago, during an hourlong repatriation ceremony Thursday.George Hees, minister of Veteran Affairs for Canada, transferred responsibility for the skeletal remains to Thomas Niles, U.S. Ambassador to Canada, in the first such ceremony in North American history.
As bagpipes cried out with strains of "Amazing Grace," Canadian soldiers loaded the caskets into 28 hearses. Four fighter jets flew over the Peace Bridge in the "missing man" formation as the procession of funeral vehicles officially entered the United States.
The remains were taken for reburial to the Bath National Cemetery, in upstate New York.
"There can be no truer an epilogue to the War of 1812," Hees said. "We also have a mutual and deep respect for our countrymen who died in uniform."
The bones and uniform buttons were found last fall during a construction project excavation near the fort. The Americans, whose identities are not known, are believed to have served in the Second Artillery Regiment and are believed to have been killed in the 1814 Battle of Snake Hill near the fort.
"We will take them back and inter them with the respect and honor they deserve," Niles said. "We will use this to remind ourselves here in North America of what we have experienced together and of the friendship we have today."
The ceremony, with a crowd of about 1,000 Canadian and Americans on hand, also featured cannon salutes and a parade of Canadian and American military honor guards.