McDONOUGH — Three members of Willie B. Hatcher American Legion Post 516 and the grandson of the post’s namesake are traveling to the Philippines this month in the first such gesture since Hatcher died in World War II.
Post members Tyrone Ancrum, Phillip Stewart and Carolyn Lewis, along with grandson Patrick Hardy and his spouse, will take the long, expensive flight to the Philippines to honor Hatcher, who served with the 97th Engineer General Services Group. Ancrum will depart Oct. 13, with the others to follow Oct. 16 and scheduled to arrive Oct. 17 in Manila. The flag raising will take place Oct. 18, followed by the memorial Oct. 19, then departure for the United States Oct. 20.
The trip will coincide with ceremonies observing the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Leyte, in which the U.S wiped out most of the Japanese Navy, ensuring victory in the Pacific.
U.S. Army Tec 5 Willie B. Hatcher was a farm hand with an elementary school education. His parents were Bennie and Rosa Hatcher. In 1940, Census records show, he lived with his family on Ga. Highway 42. National Archives records show he was 25 and single when he enlisted at Fort Benning on June 26, 1941. His rank would be equivalent today to an Army sergeant, said Post Commander Alton Head.
Hatcher’s unit was assigned to Finschhafen in Papua, New Guinea, where they were busily upgrading 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. He was World War II’s first casualty from McDonough.
He never met his son, Willie James Hardy, who was not yet born and who has since died. He left behind his wife and two brothers, Charlie and Tommie. He is buried in Plot F, Row 14, Grave 93 of the Manila American Cemetery in Taguig City.
“No one from the post or from the family has ever been over there to see the place where he lies,” said Post Commander Alton Head.
Head said Hatcher’s grandson and Ancrum, Phillips and Lewis will get as close as they can, at least touching his grave, laying a wreath and raising two American flags over it.
The flags will be returned to McDonough, where one will be given to Hatcher’s family and the other will fly over Post 516. Following a memorial ceremony at Shiloh Baptist Church at a date to be announced, the city will rename Legion Road as Willie B. Hatcher Boulevard.
“During Veterans Day ceremonies in 2015, the community asked us, ‘Why do you just fly flags?’” Head said. “’Why not try to bring his body back?’ I promised his son that I would do everything I could to try and bring his remains back.”
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.
Since then, “we went all the way up through the President’s office. We got a denial letter (from White House staff) early this June. Based on when he was killed in action, the document was signed to leave the body in the Philippines,” Head explained. “Therefore, they’re not going to override what was signed.”
“The requests may not have been made when they should have been,” said State Rep. Andy Welch, who was present at a press conference the post held to announce the trip.
The Legionnaires expressed their gratitude to all who helped them raise the $6,000 to cover the detail’s plane tickets and lodgings.
Linda Choice, who served in the U.S. Army as sergeant first class, said, “That was one of the missions I had when I first joined the post. We formed a committee, held fundraisers, did everything we could to get the body.”
“We haven’t stopped,” she added. “We’ll try to make it happen.”
See what the cemetery looks like in this architectural video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5UIG2AMxF4&feature=youtu.be