Remains of U.S. airman killed in PH in WWII finally identified
WASHINGTON — U.S. Army Air Forces Cpl. Walter J. Kellett, 22, of Ironwood, Michigan, who was killed during World War II, was finally accounted for last July 23, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced Monday.
In 1942 Kellett was a member of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group when Japanese forces invaded the Philippine Islands. Intense fighting continued until the surrender of the Bataan peninsula on April 9, 1942, and of Corregidor Island on May 6, 1942.
Thousands of U.S. and Filipino service members were captured and interned at prisoner of war camps. Kellett was among those reported captured after the surrender of Corregidor and held at the Cabanatuan POW camp. More than 2,500 POWs perished in this camp during the war.
According to prison camp and other historical records, Kellett died July 19, 1942, and was buried along with other deceased prisoners in the local Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery, in grave number 312.
Following the war, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) personnel exhumed those buried at the Cabanatuan cemetery and relocated the remains to a temporary U.S. military mausoleum near Manila.
In late 1947, the AGRS examined the remains in an attempt to identify them. Due to the circumstances of the POW deaths and burials, the extensive commingling, and the limited identification technologies of the time, all of the remains could not be individually identified. The unidentified remains were interred as “unknowns” in the present-day Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.
In May 2018, 23 “unknown” remains associated with Common Grave 312 were disinterred and sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis, including one set, designated X-2843 Manila Cemetery #2.
To identify Kellett’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.
DPAA is grateful to the American Battle Monuments Commission and the Department of the Army for their partnership in this mission.
Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, more than 400,000 died during the war. Currently there are 72,657 service members still unaccounted for from World War II, of which approximately 30,000 are assessed as possibly-recoverable.
Kellett’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, an American Battle Monuments Commission site, along with others missing from WWII.
Although interred as an “unknown” in Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Kellett’s grave was meticulously cared for over the past 70 years by the American Battle Monuments Commission. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
Kellett will be buried Oct. 5, 2019, in his hometown.