American Legion Post at Hatcher gravesite in Philippines, ceremonies to follow

(Left to right) Phillip Stewart, Carolyn Lewis and Tyrone Ancrum, the delegation from American Legion Post 516 at the gravesite of U.S. Army Tec 5 Willie B. Hatcher in the Philippines on Oct. 17, 2019. This is the first time anyone from the McDonough-Locust Grove area has visited Hatcher's gravesite since his death nearly 75 years ago during World War Two. 

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — After 75 years, almost to the day of his death, Willie B. Hatcher finally has visitors from McDonough.

Hatcher was McDonough's first casualty of World War II. A three-person delegation from American Legion Post 516 arrived earlier this week to hold graveside ceremonies in Hatcher's honor.

The wreath-laying and flag-raising ceremonies were set for Friday, Oct. 18 and Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Manila American Cemetery in Taguig City near Manila

Phillip Stewart told the Herald that a doctor decided at the last minute that Hatcher's grandson, Patrick Hardy, was not well enough to make the trip as he and his wife had planned to do.

The trip coincides with ceremonies observing the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte, which turned the war on the Pacific front in the United States' favor and decimated the Japanese Navy.

Hatcher’s unit was assigned to Finschhafen in Papua, New Guinea to upgrade the Finschhafen Airfield. Hatcher died Nov. 1, 1944 at Fort William McKinley, now Fort Bonifacio, and is listed as “DNB” or “died, non-battle” on the World War II casualty honor roll. 

Post 516, which is named in Hatcher's honor, has tried to have his remains returned to Henry County with no success.

Hatcher’s remains cannot be repatriated because his wife signed a document, related to a 1945 treaty, allowing him to be buried in the Philippines. The post appealed all the way to the White House, but was told there was nothing that could be done because of the signed document.

"We got a denial letter (from White House staff) early this June," Post Commander Alton Head told the Herald. "Based on when he was killed in action, the document was signed to leave the body in the Philippines. Therefore, they’re not going to override what was signed."

Hatcher never met his late son, Willie James Hardy, who was not yet born when Hatcher died. He left behind his wife and two brothers, Charlie and Tommie. 

Henry residents can help welcome the delegation back this Sunday at 4 p.m. at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

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