Family Celebrates The Return Of Missing WWII Soldier's Remains

The remains of William T. Carneal were found on the coastline of Saipan last year. After 70 years, Pfc. Carneal was remembered in a ceremony in his hometown of Paducah, Ky.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The remains of a western Kentucky man who disappeared during World War II have found their way home after almost 70 years. The body of William Carneal was discovered last year in Japan, along with his dog tags and his high school ring. He was buried yesterday in his hometown of Paducah.

Whitney Jones at member station WKMS has our story.

WHITNEY JONES, BYLINE: Family and friends gathered for the funeral yesterday around a flag-draped casket adorned with a photo of Private First Class William Carneal. A slideshow showed scenes from his short life. When the hearse drove to the burial site, people waving American flags lined the street. Carneal, whose family called him Teetum, enlisted in the Army in 1941. He went missing on July 7, 1944, after fighting with Japanese forces on Saipan Island.

He was reported dead the next year at the age of 24. His nephew Carlton Carneal says his uncle was part of a pact with three friends. If anything happened to any of them, the others would tell the family. So the Carneals knew what happened on Saipan Island.

CARLTON CARNEAL: He was in the foxhole, and a Japanese suicide soldier slipped up behind him while my uncle was firing his gun, jumped down on top of him and immediately detonated a hand grenade and killed them both.

JONES: Carlton Carneal is one of only a few living relatives who met and remembered his uncle.

CARLTON CARNEAL: I was almost 10 when he left. He taught me to be a baseball pitcher. And he came down to the ballgame, hugged my mother and father and I goodbye. And we never saw him again.

JONES: A Japanese nonprofit discovered Carneal's remains and those of four other American soldiers in March 2013 while looking for the bodies of missing Japanese soldiers. The group also found Carneal's 1939 class ring from Heath High School in Paducah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAPS")

JONES: At the funeral, a small group from that Japanese nonprofit watches the ceremony. Carneal's other nephew JT Carneal says while many funerals are a somber farewell, this one was a celebration, especially since the day would have marked his uncle's 94th birthday.

J. T. CARNEAL: As a little boy, when he went in, I have never been able to celebrate a birthday for him. Today, it's the happiest day of our lives that he's coming home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD BLESS AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her...

JONES: Carneal's family decided against burying him at Arlington National Cemetery and instead laid him to rest at Paducah's Palestine Cemetery next to his sister, Ruth Anderson, who raised him after their parents died.

For NPR News, I'm Whitney Jones.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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