Body of Lehigh County man killed in World War II returns home

May 22, 2013 3:41:03 PM PDT
A funeral home in Bethlehem has received the remains of a soldier from the Lehigh Valley who was killed in World War II in 1944.

It's been a long and difficult road for his family, but US Army Private William Yawney is finally home.

"It's just a thrill that he's finally going to be coming home," nephew John Yawney said.

Action News was there as the remains of William Yawney returned to the Lehigh Valley 69 years after he was killed during World War II.

John Yawney walked us through the story that started a short time after his uncle was drafted.

"My uncle was sent over to Saipan with the invasion force back in 1944," John said.

The battle for Saipan, part of the Mariana Islands, not far from Japan, dragged on for nearly a month through the summer of 1944.

Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed, including the 23-year-old Yawney.

The news came as a crushing blow to his family back in Freemansburg, Northampton County.

"My grandmother, she stopped crying around 1950. She shed all the tears she could for him," John said.

The worst part was that William's body was never found.

That's until about a year and a half ago when a private archaeological firm in Saipan discovered some human remains.

Several families were soon contacted by the U.S. Military and each was asked to submit DNA with the hope of making a positive identification.

"A unit went in and retrieved it and sent it to Hawaii and my uncle sent his DNA over and it was a match," John said.

And so finally, on Wednesday, a police escort brought William Yawney to the Connell Funeral Home in Bethlehem.

The family had the option to bury their war hero at Arlington National Cemetery, but the decision was made that after 69 years, it was time for William to come home.

"We're going to be able to lay him to rest next to his mother because his mother, she loved her kids, they were her pride and joy," John said.