Airman accounted for from World War II

  • Published
  • By Mr. Daniel Wheaton
  • 57th Wing Historian

The remains of Cpl. Walter J. Kellett, a World War II member of what is now a 57th Wing unit, have been found and identified.

Kellett enlisted in 1940 and was assigned to the 17th Pursuit Squadron, now the 17th Weapons Squadron assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The unit was in the Philippines in 1942 when Japanese forces attacked the Islands.

He took part in fierce combat over three months during a series of ground battles. The Bataan Peninsula surrendered in April due to a lack of reinforcements and supplies, ending his unit’s courageous efforts.

Kellett was captured as a prisoner of war and forced to take part in the Bataan Death March, a brutal trek of 65 miles over the course of six days. Along with thousands of others, he was then transferred to sweltering train boxcars for a one-hour trip, then marched seven more miles to the O’Donnell POW camp.

Weeks later, he died of malaria and dysentery at the Cabanatuan POW camp on July 19, 1942 at age 22. He was buried, along with others, in a grave marked 312.

After the war, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) personnel exhumed those buried at the Cabanatuan grounds, moving the remains to a temporary U.S. military facility near Manila. In 1947, the AGRS attempted to identify the remains, but could not due to circumstances of POW deaths and burials, the substantial commingling of the remains and the limited identification processes of the time.

The unidentified remains were interred as “unknowns” in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

In May 2018, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency analyzed 23 remains from grave 312 which lead to the positive identification of Kellett on July 23, 2019, and the official announcement on Sept. 30.

Cpl. Walter J. Kellett was buried in his hometown of Ironwood, Michigan, on Oct. 5, 2019 with full military honors -- his sister and other family members were in attendance.