WWII Vet’s belongings bring closure to local family
Closure. That is what one local family is getting after 70 years of waiting to find out what happened to their loved one, Private First Class William T. Carneal, in WWII.
On Tuesday, members of W.T. “Teetum” Carneal’s family gathered at Reidland Clothing Company as U.S. Army Sgt. Tyler Holt took items belonging to W.T., one-by-one, out of a cardboard box. W.T. Carneal had been reported as missing in action since July 6, 1944, in Saipan.
Silence filled the room and tears filled the eyes of not just family members, but others, who came out to see what possessions belonging to Carneal would come out the box.
First to come out, was a plastic bag filled with poncho fragments. Then came the dog tags. W.T.’s nephew J.T. Carneal briefly held the dog tags before putting them down to accept the next item. Sgt. Holt then took out a 1939 class ring from Heath High School.
It was with the ring that this heartfelt presentation actually had its beginnings.
Months ago, Sandy Hart, curator of the Kentucky Veteran and Patriot Museum in Wickliffe, had been intrigued when she saw a facebook post from a friend about the discovery of five bodies identified as U.S. soldiers that had been found by the Kuentai Group, a nonprofit in Japan, whose job is to locate the bodies of Japanese soldiers who had died in World War II.
Carneal’s remains and personal belongings had been found last March during an excavation in Saipan. Among the findings were Carneal’s dog tags, American and Japanese coins, a pocket knife, a key, and the 1939 Heath High School ring.
When Hart learned that the name of one of the U.S. soldiers was W.T. Carneal, she just knew that she had heard the name before. She recalled a trip she had organized 10 years ago wherein local WWII Veterans boarded 17 buses and were ushered to Washington D.C. On this trip, Hart had spoken with WWII Veteran G.C. Carneal, who had said his relative served in WWII, but he had never been found.
Hart asked her friend Teresa Salonimer to help with some genealogical research, and the identity of W.T. Carneal quickly came to light much to the thanks of the class ring. Although the positive results of W.T. Carneal’s remains matching a relatives’ DNA did not come until December 4th, the family knew they had found their long lost relative.
“The ring got to me because it meant so much to him,” said Hart. “He was the only branch of the family to graduate.”
W.T. Carneal was born in Grahamville in 1920. His mom had died when he was 18 months old, and his dad had died when he was seven. He was raised by his oldest sister Ruth and her husband L.O. Anderson. W.T. joined the Army in 1941 after graduating from Heath High School in 1939. That was the last time his family had ever seen him.
During Tuesday’s presentation, J.T. Carneal said his father had felt bad that he could not save W.T. from the military. W.T. could have gone to live with J.T.’s father and be exempt from service in the military since J.T.’s father was a farmer. But W.T. wanted to serve his country, so off he went.
Recent investigations have revealed the exact nature of W.T.’s death. He, along with four others, was killed by a grenade blast during a suicide attack by enemy forces, according to J.T. Carneal. All five soldiers were buried under more than 3 feet of clay.
Back in January, Kuentai’s Secretary General, Usan Kurata, had come to Paducah with translator Yukari Akatsuca to meet with the Carneal family. At the time, Kurata had said he took comfort in the fact that the nonprofit is able to bring individual soldiers back home, no matter what nationality they are. It was actually a visit to Virginia where they had met with relatives of another of the deceased veterans found in Saipan that they were able to contact Hart, who connected them with the Carneal family.
J.T. Carneal said the family will probably present Hart with one of W.T.’s dog tags to be put on display at the KVPM. When asked how he felt about receiving W.T’s belongs, J.T. said, “It’s a different experience. It makes you proud because he served his country.”
J.T. Carneal said his family had been asked if they wanted W.T. to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but they decided to bury him next to his sister Ruth Anderson at Palestine Methodist Church in West Paducah. W.T. Carneal will be laid to rest on his birthday, April 25th, following a brief ceremony at Milner & Orr in Paducah. He will receive full military honors, which will include a rifle salute and flag ceremony. Ballard County WWII Veteran Earl Gidcumb will play taps.
As a fellow WWII Veteran, Earl Gidcumb said, “This is a great opportunity for the family to have closure. It’s an honor to be involved.”
After waiting for over seven decades, J.T. Carneal said of his uncle Teetum, “We’re glad to have him home after 70 years.”
The living nephews and neices are: Carlton Carneal, J. T. Carneal, Mary Christian, Shelby Bishop, Doris Ann Saywell.