- Allison Wichie Staff Writer
Nearly 75 years after the death of a Springfield man in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the sailor’s remains finally will be buried in his hometown Saturday.
William “Billy” 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.
Welch, by then 18, was killed aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma, the first ship to be hit by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.
His youngest sister, Ann Welch Ianni, was only 8 years old, but said she remembers that day.
“It was tears and tears and tears, that’s what I can remember of the day, just sad,” she said.
Fewer than 40 of the more than 450 sailors aboard the ship survived the attack.
For decades, the family could not say their “final goodbyes” to Billy. His body was one of hundreds that wasn’t identified after the attack.
But through efforts in recent years by the U.S. Department of Defense, the sailors remains were identified. Welch’s ashes arrived in Ohio on Thursday, nephew Tony Hannon said, draped in a U.S. flag and accompanied off a plane by a Navy crew.
“To have him back home is just the most wonderful thing,” Ianni said.
The U.S. government 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. Service men and women are identified at battle grounds overseas daily, federal officials said, from Pearl Harbor to Vietnam.
Ianni never imagined after all these years she finally would get to lay her brother to rest in Springfield.
“He’s finally home,” she said.
Welch was the middle child of the family of eight, his sister said. Carolyn Ryan, of Kettering, is Welch’s only other remaining sibling.
More than 70 members of the family — Ianni, her sister and nieces and nephews from Clark County to Florida to Arizona — will attend the Catholic funeral mass at St. Joseph Church, 819 Kenton St., and the burial at Calvary Cemetery on East Possum Road.
Five of those relatives were named “William Edward” after the seaman, Hannon said.
“The emotions are overwhelming,” he said.
As the family has prepared Welch’s funeral over the past few months, Hannon said they have been surprised by the outpouring of support from the Springfield community.
“Everybody has wanted to be part of it, calling and everything,” Ianni said.
VFW Post 8673, at 2825 E. Leffel Lane, is named after Welch, and the sailor’s funeral procession will pass by it on the way to the cemetery.
Local veterans plan to meet at the post to line the streets to honor the fallen sailor.
The family is grateful, Ianni said, for everyone in the community who is participating in welcoming her brother home.