Memorial Day homecoming
After more than 60 years, it was only fitting World War II veteran Pvt. William Yawney's remains were finally laid to rest two days before Memorial Day.
Strong winds were coupled with blue skies as family and friends of Yawney gathered at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Cemetery in Northampton the morning of May 25 for his final return home and funeral.
Yawney, originally from Freemansburg, served at the age of 23 as a private in the U.S. Army in Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division.
Yawney's nephew, John Yawney of Hanover Township, said the family mailed had sent countless letters to Yawney in 1944. They had gone unanswered.
"All the aunts and uncles were sending him letters and not getting a response," said John.
It was during a mission on the island of Saipan in July 1944 the Army informed Yawney's mother, Katherine, her son was killed in action while on a mission on the island of Saipan in July 1944.
For the next few months, the U.S. military told Katherine her son was still alive and unable to respond due to a secret mission he was on.
It was only after a friend who served Yawney returned home that the family learned Yawney had not died in July, but rather in May 1944.
"They found out he had been dead for months," John said.
The Army confirmed Yawney died in the Battle of Saipan and told Katherine her son was given a military burial.
In 1949, the military began relocating the bodies of dead World War II soldiers to their homes. However, Yawney's remains could not be located.
"They opened up the grave and there were no remains," John said. "His remains were unrecoverable."
In 2011, an archaeological team, while on a digging mission in Saipan, came across a World War II bunker containing the remains of a human.
John said his uncle sent in a DNA sample, which came back as a match.
"I was overjoyed and my uncle was extremely happy," said John of the return of Yawney's remains.
Family members, John said, are "really, really thrilled."
John said elected officials did not provide much assistance to the Yawneys in locating the remains. He credits his uncle with bringing Yawney home.
"It was because of him and his determination and persistence that they actually made a connection," he said.
Katherine, who died in 1983, would have been at peace May 25 as her son's remains were buried below his name on the tombstone, which Katherine had engraved decades earlier.
The funeral became emotional as the Rev. Dan Gurovich prayed for Yawney and sprinkled Holy Water over his remains, and John accepted a flag in honor of his uncle from U.S. Army Lt. Benjamin Dickey.
Yawney's funeral included a 21 gun salute, the presence of the Ukrainian American Veterans, the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the 4th Infantry Division and members of the New Jersey troop Rolling Thunder.