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James Wheeler

The journey to find my brother.
I was placed up for adoption at birth and was reunited with my birth family in 1996. I was told I had an older brother who was a Marine. I was so excited to learn that. Unfortunately he lived in Massachusetts and I wasn’t ever able to meet him. You see our Dad wasn’t the best father and James and Dad hadn’t spoken in years. So I had no way of contacting James to tell him I was his sister and how much I love him. Even though we never met he is my blood and I love him. Years past when I heard the news that James was missing from his base is Charleston, WV. The marines said he was a deserter but I knew something was not right. I knew from talking to my grandfather (Ret) Lt Co. Glynn Wheeler that James lived and breathed for the Marine Corps.

It just took a piece of me and shattered it into pieces knowing in my gut that James wouldn’t be seen alive. He suffered from Depression and PTSD and also had a drinking problem obviously due to his depression. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and had been a Marine Reservist for 18 years up to 2004. Nine months later I was informed by a friend that he saw in the newspaper in Montana that my brothers’ body was found June 27, 2005. That is the exact same day my fiancé, Travis, was killed.
How much more pain could I take in one day. I have been doing everything in my power to make sure James will forever be honored and remembered for the hero he will always be to me. I called the Madison County Sheriff Department where he was found. They gave me the coordinates where James was found. I have them tattooed on my forearm so I will always know where he is. His Mom, we have different moms, had him cremated and spread his ashes near where he was found.
I wish I could say I knew James but as you can see we never met but I know he is in heaven smiling and proud of his little sister. ♡♡ Ana R.

November 4, 2004
Bozeman Daily Chronicle:
A Madison County sheriff’s deputy piecing together the mysterious trail of a missing U.S. Marine whose vehicle was found abandoned in the Gravelly Mountains last month has unearthed a few clues, he said Thursday.
Staff Sgt. James Wheeler, 38, was severely depressed, struggled with a drinking problem and may be suicidal, Sheriff Deputy Dan Birdsill, who is leading the investigation, said Thursday.
In addition, the U.S. Marine Reserves had classified Wheeler a deserter in September, 30 days after he disappeared from a base in West Virginia.
Yet Birdsill, who led a search of the area around Wheeler’s abandoned vehicle with a dog last week, has yet to determine just what happened.
“We just don’t have anything solid to say we’re pretty sure this is what happened,” he said.
Wheeler, 38, checked in with his Marine Reserve unit in Charleston, W.Va., in late August, Capt. Patrick Kerr, spokesman for the Marine Reserves, said in a telephone interview from New Orleans. Wheeler had moved to West Virginia from Massachusetts and told his commanders he was going to find a place to live.
“They never saw him again,” Kerr said. “The next thing we know his vehicle was found in Madison County, Montana.”
He was classified a deserter in late September after he was missing for longer than 30 days.
But Wheeler’s mother Ellen Wrede said her son had been in the Marines for 20 years, served in Afghanistan and Iraq and planned to re-enlist when his contract was completed in early October.
She said her son was not trying to get out of military service.
“He was very upset about not being able to go to Iraq, because he thought he was better trained than many of the people who were going,” she said in a telephone interview.
In addition, her son’s friends told her that he had slipped into a deep depression and had recently sold and given away many of his valuables.
Those are some of the telltale signs that someone is contemplating suicide, Wrede said.
Clearly, Wheeler had some problems in his personal life, Birdsill said.
Wheeler had a drinking problem, for which the military had sent him to alcohol treatment, Birdsill said. Yet it appears that he was drinking again. Officers found an empty whiskey bottle in the abandoned vehicle.
Wheeler had also been drawing married pay, even though he divorced in 1998, Birdsill said. But the military was going to allow Wheeler to pay back the money.

In October, U.S. Forest Service rangers received reports of a red Geo Tracker parked near Crockett Lake, about a half-mile off the Gravelly Range Road, but hadn’t investigated because they thought it belonged to a bow hunter.
After the Madison County Sheriff’s Department determined that the vehicle had been in the same place for quite some time, deputies searched it on Oct. 25.
The vehicle contained an expensive shotgun, military fatigues and uniforms and a sleeping bag.
There were also a few clips from a 9 mm pistol and M-16 rifle, a laptop computer and some food, Birdsill said. The keys were still in the ignition, the doors were unlocked and the vehicle started right away.
Search-and-rescue volunteers plan to search the cabins and old homesteads in a broad area of the southern Gravellys.
In addition, they’re chasing a few tips that have trickled in since Wheeler’s disappearance, including a Helena man’s discovery of a pair of hiking boots sitting on a pile of rocks last week in the Black Butte area.
Nick Gevock is at ngevock@dailychronicle.com

From June 2005:
BOZEMAN – A body believed that of a missing Marine staff sergeant has been found in the Gravelly Mountains near where his abandoned vehicle was found more than nine months ago, officials said Monday.
Searchers using cadaver-sniffing dogs found the adult corpse Saturday, Madison County Sheriff Dave Schenk said.
The team of 21 sheriff’s deputies, search-and-rescue volunteers and six search dogs and their handlers found the remains about an hour after resuming a search that was halted last fall.
The body, believed to be that of James Wheeler, was sent to the state crime lab in Missoula for positive identification, Schenk said.
“It’s pretty clear that it’s him,” Wheeler’s mother, Ellen Wrede, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in a telephone interview from her house in Spokane. She was on the scene when the remains were found.
Wheeler, 38, disappeared in late August after he checked into his new Marine Reserve base in Charleston, W. Va. He was seen a few days later at a shooting range in Ohio.

Eventually, his vehicle was noticed parked in late September near Crockett Lake in the Gravellys. Sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Forest Service officers opted not to search the vehicle or the area for a month because no one had been reported missing.
When they finally searched the vehicle and ran an identification check, officials found food, camping gear and an expensive shotgun.
A search was started, but snow already blanketed the mountains and nothing was found, Schenk said.
Schenk said he wanted to conduct a thorough search this spring once the area dried up and before the public was allowed in. The roads reopen Fourth of July weekend.
In the months since Wheeler’s car was discovered, Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Birdsill’s investigation revealed Wheeler had fallen into a deep depression. He said Wheeler also struggled with a drinking problem and was classified a deserter by the U.S. Marine Reserves after disappearing from the West Virginia base in late August.
His mother said she intends to spread her son’s ashes in the Gravellys.
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