Most people wouldn't choke up at the sight of a deteriorated poncho, a rust-eaten key or a decades-old pocket knife. But tears rose to the eyes of several members of Private First Class William T. Carneal's family on Tuesday as they perused the items found with the World War II veteran's remains.
The belongings, which included Carneal's dog tags, belt buckle and a 1939 class ring from Heath High School, were recovered on the Japanese island of Saipan, where Carneal was killed in July 1944. After nearly seven decades without news of their relative, Carneal's descendants had little reason to believe they'd ever recover his possessions or remains.
But Carneal's possessions finally crossed the ocean and arrived in his family's hands. During a brief presentation at Reidland Clothing Company, U.S. Army Sgt. Tyler Holt unpacked a brown cardboard box and returned the objects, one by one.
"We kind of feel like now he's home with us," nephew J.T. Carneal said after the presentation.
J.T. Carneal added that the family has also found closure because of a recent investigation that revealed the cause of his uncle's death. The military believes that William Carneal, whose body was found with four others under more than 3 feet of clay, was killed by a grenade blast during a suicide attack by enemy forces, his nephew said.
"It's a blessing to us that the whole family now can know what happened and put it to rest," Carneal said. "He gave his life for his country."
Except for a dog tag that will be given to the Veterans Museum in Wickliffe, the belongings will remain in the hands of Carneal's descendants. Carneal is also survived by nephew Carlton M. Carneal, niece Mary Carneal Christian, great-nephew Jimmy Fields, and great-nieces Carol Ann Fields Lindley and Beverly Fields Swift.
The process of finding and returning Carneal's possessions and remains was hardly straightforward. Japanese nonprofit Keuntai, which searches for the bodies of Japanese soldiers killed in World War II, discovered Carneal's remains a year ago and turned them over to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. The class ring gave the family hope that their ancestor had at last been found, but DNA testing was required to confirm Carneal's identity. The results arrived in December.
After Tuesday's presentation, the family gathered to make plans for Carneal's interment, scheduled for April 25, his birthday. Although Carneal could have been buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the family agreed that he should be laid to rest next to sister Ruth Anderson at Palestine United Methodist Church in West Paducah. Following a brief ceremony at 1 p.m. at Milner & Orr, Carneal will receive full military honors at the cemetery, including a 21-gun salute and flag ceremony. The military personnel of Fort Campbell will preside over the funeral. Local World War II veteran Edward "Earl" Gidcumb has offered to play taps.
"So many families exist that don't have any idea where their loved ones are," said Gidcumb, who also served in the Pacific theater, "and it's an honor to be involved in this whole thing."
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @on Twitter.