WWII veteran’s remains return home to NELA eight decades after a body mix-up

When one WWII soldier from NELA died during the war, the family received the wrong remains back. Decades later, the military made it right.
Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 2:38 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 28, 2023 at 2:39 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - The ArkLaMiss is home to thousands of veterans and war heroes. The sacred oath of leaving no soldier behind hits home for one Northeast Louisiana family and community.

Willie Jones was a staff sergeant who survived the Bataan Death March of World War II but later died at the young age of 21 years old. This Bataan Death March is described by the History Channel as the forcible removal of 75,000 Filipino and American troops on the Bataan Peninsula on the Philippine island of Luzon. The prisoner of war (POWs) were forced to walk 65 miles to prison camps, where they were subjected to the brutal treatment of Japanese guards. It is estimated that 17,000 men died during and after the Bataan Death March.

Fort Necessity’s Janice Hensely said she has never considered herself a history buff, but stories of Jones, who was a family member of hers, have sparked her interest.

“I never knew him, never met him, but we had a picture on the wall,” Hensely said.

David Meyer, Fort Polk chaplain, described the soldier as resilient.

“[He was] a man who could withstand incredible hardship,” Meyer said.

81 years ago, Jones was buried in Winnsboro, but many in the family believed a mistake was made.

“My grandmother said, ‘That is not my son,’” said R.C. Moore, Jones’ nephew.

Then in 2018, a random call from the military sparked a wild chain of events.

Moore was asked for a DNA sample that was eventually linked to bones found in a Philippines grave site with 10 bodies. The remains of one of those bodies turned out to belong to Jones.

Ron Charrier, past commander of VFW in Winnsboro, said there is some explanation as to how the bodies got mixed up.

“When he died, they would take dog tags of the deceased...They had no way of knowing if that was the right person,” Charrier said.

The remains that were originally in Jones’ plot were exhumed last week to make way for his long overdue homecoming. 81 years later, Jones is getting his flowers thanks to DNA. His story finally has a conclusion.

This remarkable story is not quite over, though. It is now time to begin the process of identifying the soldier that was in Jones’ casket.