Springfield man’s remains to come home 75 years after Pearl Harbor

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

William "Billy" Welch was killed Dec. 7, 1941 aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack on Pearl Harbor. His body was one of hundreds of men never identified from the wreckage. But a recent dental match means his Springfield family will have a pie...

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The remains of a Springfield man will return home nearly 75 years after he was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor

William “Billy” Welch was killed aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma, the first ship to be hit by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.

“I remember the morning, I had been to church, come home. And heard (the news) but they wouldn’t tell you he was dead,” Welch’s youngest sister, Ann Welch Ianni, said of that day.

Less than 40 of the more than 450 sailors aboard the ship survived the attack.

Welch’s body was one of hundreds that wasn’t identified after the attack. The U.S.S. Oklahoma sat on the sea bed of Pearl Harbor for months before the victims could be removed from the wreckage, said Steve Marsh, a Navy and Marine corps funeral director who works with the POW/MIA branch of the Navy.

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.

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