TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Nearly 80 years after his death, one family is hoping to bring the remains of their World War II soldier back home.
“I have never heard of someone requesting a body after all this time," said Billie Rein, an Oro Valley resident. “Can we get his body home?”
William “Bill” Querl was born in Williamsburg, Iowa. He enlisted in the Army in February 1941 and served in the Philippine Islands.
Corporal Querl was captured by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war, forced to walk with more than 70,000 other soldiers in the 65-mile Bataan Death March.
“When you read the story and hear... it’s not about one soldier that went to prison, it’s about all the soldiers," Rein said.
According to military documents provided by Rein, Querl died of malaria and dysentery in 1942.
Querl’s mother, Ida Querl, was already going through a tough time when she learned of her son’s death, Rein said. Just three weeks before his death, Ida’s husband died in a car accident and she was worried she’d lose her family’s farm.
Querl’s mother, his primary next of kin, had another tough decision to make. She could have her son’s body brought back to the United States and arrange for him to be buried in a private cemetery or have him buried in an American cemetery overseas. Family said that option included $1,800.
“She needed the money, so she took the money and never got to bury her son at home, which I feel is wrong," Rein said.
Querl was laid to rest in in the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines, also known as the Fort McKinley Cemetery. Family members said Ida always regretted the decision to not bring her son home.
“This man, my uncle, deserves so much more than what was given to him and he deserved to be buried in the family plot in Iowa," Rein said.
Rein, named after her ‘Uncle Bill’ and his brother, Lee, has been working with her cousin in a cross-country mission since February to bring their loved one’s remains back to Iowa.
Rein said her cousin Marilea Schmidt, who lives in Iowa, has been the driving force.
“First it’s the battle of, you get the ‘no’s,' ‘we’re not doing that,'" Rein said. "Or ‘it’s going to cost you this much money.’”
KOLD News 13 reached out to the U.S. Army Human Resources Command for information on the process.
In an email, the public affairs office said:
"The Army accommodated the wishes of the next-of-kin (mother) to bury her son in the Philippines at the time of his death.
Unless there is evidence of misidentification of the remains buried in the Philippines, any subsequent efforts to exhume/transport/re-inter those remains by present day relatives would have to be coordinated and financed by those relatives along with officials in the Philippines, not the Army."
“They have a spot ready for him, when he comes home," Rein said.
Back to where family members believe he wanted to be, especially after learning their loved one was quoted in the book, “Oh God, Where Are You Now?” by Abie Abraham.
The book, published in 1997, shares experiences with the “Ghost of Bataan”, who survived World War II in the Philippines, tells of his experiences in Japanese prison camps.
One soldier mentioned is William Querl from Williamsburg, a member of G Company, Thirty-first Infantry.
“He was always singing “Ida,” the author wrote. When asked why, Querl answered “Well the woman in my life is my mother, Ida."
“When I read that, I’m thinking that’s where he wanted to go," Rein said. "He wanted to go home to be with his mom.”
Rein said there is a plot in the family cemetery in Iowa, next to Querl’s mother and father.
“Hopefully the body will be home... he will be home real soon. We’re all praying for that," Rein said.
Rein said the family will keep pushing, even after Schmidt received a letter recently that seemed to stall the process.
In a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley, who Schmidt reached out to for help, the Chief of the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Division regrettably informed the senator the Army was “unable to authorize the return of CPL William Querl’s remains."
The letter states Congress provided authority only until Dec. 31, 1951 for the primary next of kin to apply for return of remains to the United States.
“The Army cannot grant a waiver or an exception to policy because this is a Federal law, not Army policy, and the Army has no authority to override Federal law. However, it is a longstanding Army policy to honor the wishes expressed by the PNOK in all matters of disposition of remains.
I know this is not the response Ms. Schmidt desires, but I hope she understands that the decision to leave CPL Querl in the Philippines was made by his closest relative at the time."
KOLD News 13 reached out to Sen. Grassley’s office for a statement on the decision.
“Any time an Iowan needs help working with a federal agency, my office assists in their request. Ultimately, there are rules that govern how this process works. Anyone can understand the family’s desire to have their loved one who died fighting for our country return home to be buried with other family members.” – Sen. Chuck Grassley.