PADUCAH, KY (KFVS) - Friday, the Heartland honors a WWII veteran missing in action in Japan since 1944. Army PFC William T. Carneal's remains were discovered just last year and returned to Kentucky on Tuesday.
Kentucky State Police escorted them to the entire way and at the county line the McCracken County Sheriff's Department took over.
Family members honored him with funeral services Friday in Paducah. Friday marks Carneal's 94th birthday.
Carneal qualified to be buried in Arlington Nation Cemetery, his family has chosen to lay him to rest in his native Kentucky.
"Freedom isn't free and we need to pause a moment to show our appreciation and gratitude to those that gave," said Wayne Carter, Lindsey Funeral Home.
His family says Friday is a time to honor not only their loved one, but all veterans.
The Japanese group that found his body saw a photo in a magazine of a WWII mission and were actually looking for their own when they discovered Carneal's remains including his dog tags, class ring, and other items.
His nephew is the oldest surviving family member who remembers Carneal as a boy.
“I am his oldest living relative,” said Carlton Carneal, his nephew. “I remember everyone liked him. He taught me how to throw a curve ball. He came to a baseball game when I was 10 and hugged my family goodbye and we never saw him again,”
“So for me this is a day of joy to have my beloved uncle home,” he said.
“It’s almost overwhelming all the support,” said J.T. Carneal, another nephew, says this is such a surreal and meaningful day for the family. “It reminds us and it shows that patriotism still exists. We thought this would just be a modest thing but the support has just been unbelievable.”
Countless people from the community, local schools, and across the world have reached out to be a part of this day almost 70 years in the making.
Visitation was at noon at Lindsey Funeral Home. A funeral was at 1 p.m. Following, there was a procession to the Palestine United Methodist Cemetery in West Paducah.
Prior to services for William T. Carneal his family friends local veterans patriot guard riders and the representatives from the non-profit Japanese organization who discovered his remains, gathered for a breakfast.
The Japanese group saw a photo in a magazine of a WWII mission and were actually looking for their own military when they made the discovery. With the help of a translator, Holly Brantley discussed with them what it means to be a part of Friday's events
"This is very honorable to us we just found the dog tag by accident and then we are invited to this ceremony today we are kind of surprised that people are so happy and have given us the opportunity."
They say it's a priceless accidental find for the Carneal family.
"We heard that there is no active organization looking for American Soldier’s who died during World War II," Usan Kurata on behalf of translator. He is the Secretary General of Nonprofit Organization Kuentai. "That is why Kuentai decided to form Kuentai USA to help find American Soldiers and return them back home. That’s why we are in the process of planning our next project.”
“We didn’t expect all of this, we are very happy to be here,” said Usan Kurata. “We are surprised people are so happy and we are so honored to have this opportunity to attend.”
Representatives from Kuentai say this is the first time the remains of a missing in action American soldier have been returned home by a Japanese organization. They say Carneal's remains were among several other soldiers discovered.