Aleteia

Finally Home: Serviceman Killed in Battle with Japanese Brought Back to New Orleans

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A mother’s plea to find her son is fulfilled, thanks to a chance discovery in the South Pacific

The mother of a World War II soldier from New Orleans went to her grave not knowing what ever happened to her son.

But now, that soldier’s remains are finally home, almost 74 years after he was killed during a battle with the Japanese on the Pacific island of New Guinea.

What the US military could not do, in spite of persistent pleas from that mother, a villager in Papua New Guinea did.

Pvt. Earl Joseph Keating, 28, was killed Dec. 5, 1942, when he and fellow soldiers of the 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division, manning a roadblock, came under attack by the Japanese. Pvt. John H. Klopp, 25, also of New Orleans, died as well, and fellow soldiers buried them together.

For the next dozen years, the family prayed for Keating, and his mother, Jeanne Marie Cecile Nadau du Treil Keating, wrote letter after letter to the Army—to no avail.

Before she died in 1954, she urged her 12-year-old grandson, Nadau “du Treil” Michael Keating Jr., to help his father find Pvt. Keating.

Thanks to a Papua-New Guinea villager out on a hunt, the younger Keating has finally brought his uncle home.

That villager came across the remains of the two men and some personal effects in 2012, according to the Associated Press:

“He dug around and found a helmet and some artifacts such as the dog tags,” said Tyler Lege, Michael Keating’s young nephew. Word that some remains and effects had been found was eventually passed along to the U.S. military, which sent a team to investigate.

The U.S. military makes an extensive effort to recover the remains of missing troops from conflicts around the world, AP explained. But they needed more DNA in order to help identify Keating’s remains. About a year and a half ago, the younger Keating found a cousin, Sue duTreil, at Tulane University. Both she and her brothers provided DNA samples and eventually the military was able to positively identify the remains.

Earl Joseph Keating was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Medal, Army Good Conduct, Victory-World War II, Combat Infantry, Army 1st Award, Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star. But none of those means as much to the family as having their uncle home.

On Saturday, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond celebrated a funeral Mass for Pvt. Keating at the Center of Jesus the Lord-Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in New Orleans.

“Earl, welcome home to New Orleans,” Archbishop Aymond said during the service. According to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the archbishop praised the faith shown by Keating in enlisting at 28 years old a year before the beginning of World War II and then serving far from home, knowing that his time on Earth might be fleeting.

He also pointed to the faith shown by Keating’s mother, Cecile, who placed a prayer kneeler in her home after hearing the news of her son’s death in January 1943, and used it every day afterward until her death in 1954.

During the service, Keating’s nephew, who was urged by his grandmother to find his uncle, read a letter written by his father to Pvt. Keating. AP said it was never read by the soldier because he died before it arrived. Instead the letter was stamped “Deceased” and returned to sender.

After the funeral, the soldier’s remains were driven to St. Joseph Cemetery in New Orleans, passing by the city’s World War II museum, where the US flag was lowered to half-staff and taps sounded. Pvt. Keating’s obituary, appearing in the New Orleans Advocate, noted that additional remains that were “mixed with other soldiers’ remains” in the makeshift battlefield grave, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery on March 23, with full military honors.

Said the younger Keating, “It’s a lifelong promise of my parents and my grandparents and it’s being completed and it’s a great, great honor for me to be able to do this.”