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World War II hero buried nearly 70 years later

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: May 25 2013 04:48:27 PM CDT
Updated On: May 25 2013 05:18:19 PM CDT

Soldier laid to rest nearly 70 years later

NORTHAMPTON, Pa. -

In Northampton County, they buried a war hero this Memorial Day weekend.  It's a funeral his family waited nearly seven decades for.

Tucked away in St. John the Baptist Ukranian Cemetery in Northampton borough, you may just find the tomb of the "unknown" soldier.

It belongs to Private William Yawney.

"We grew up without him," said his nephew, John Yawney.

But few of those who attended his funeral today knew him at all.  Yawney was part of "The Greatest Generation" who never came home.  The U.S. Army believes he died in the Battle of Saipan in 1944.  At the time, Yawney's family got conflicting news of his death.

"In '49, when they went to exhume all the bodies in Saipan and send them to Hawaii, they opened up the grave, and there was no coffin, there was no nothing," said John Yawney.

The family endured decades of waiting and wondering.

"I was always wondering if he really was gone," said William Yawney's niece, Ellen Rosko.  "I thought maybe one day he'd come walking through the door."

That would never happen, but more than a half-century later, a letter arrived from Saipan.  A construction crew in Saipan found Yawney's remains.  It was a breakthrough.

"There was a DNA match and they want to bring him home," said John Yawney.

Pvt. Yawney's reamins returned to Northampton Co. this week, and Saturday, he was finally laid to rest next to his mother.

"My grammy always did want him home," said Rosko.

They say, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."  But their legacy lives on.

"It was through their sacrifice that we can now -- I can speak to you freely," said John Yawney.

And this soldier finally returned home, just in time for Memorial Day.

"Now he's home, and that's it," said Rosko.