The U.S. Department of Defense began efforts in the past year to exhume the graves of the unidentified soldiers buried in Hawaii and try to match them by either dental records or DNA from relatives.
One of those graves included a piece of jaw bone matched to Welch, Marsh told relatives when he met with them at Conroy Funeral Home in Springfield on Thursday.
Ianni never imagined after all these years she finally would get to lay her brother to rest at home.
“We got to the point to where we didn’t think we’d ever get him,” she said.
Welch enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17, leaving his senior year at Catholic Central High School early to serve his country, Ianni said.
“He was a good boy — he was sweet and religious, loved his family,” his sister said.
Ianni was only 8 years old when her brother was killed in action and the family never got to bury their brother and son. Welch was the middle child of the family of eight, his sister said. Carolyn Ryan, of Kettering, is Welch’s only other remaining sibling.
The remaining family members, including Ianni, her sister and nieces and nephews from Clark County to Florida to Arizona, are now planning a Catholic funeral and burial for the seaman.
“We always talked about (Billy) — I was born in ‘47, so it was many years after he passed away, but he felt like he was always there,” said Welch’s nephew Tony Hannon of Springfield.
The Navy will pay to fly his remains back to Springfield and will cover his burial, Marsh said.
“We really are trying to do the right thing and bring these guys back,” he said.
Service men and women are identified at battle grounds overseas daily, Marsh said, from Pearl Harbor to Vietnam.
The family is pleased with the Navy’s commitment to keep them in the know about Welch’s remains, Hannon said.
They plan to have a military burial with full honors sometime in September, Ianni said.
With tears in her eyes, she explained what it meant to her to have this moment.
“Everything — you know, bringing him back home,” she said.