Walter J. Kellett
September 27, 2019
Walter, known as "Bobbie," was born Jan. 20, 1920, to Bob and Dagmar Kellett. Raised in Ironwood, Walter grew into a life of service. After high school at Luther L. Wright, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps where he helped build the bridge at Black River Harbor on Lake Superior. On Aug. 10, 1940, he enlisted in the U.S. Army with his friend and neighbor, Jack Kennedy. After training, he was assigned to the Army Air Corps in the Philippines.
In 1942, Kellett was a member of the 17th Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group serving in the Philippines. After the Japanese invasion, he was transferred to the Provisional Air Corps Regiment which took its place on Bataan's defensive line in January 1942. Throughout February and March, they prepared defensive positions, practiced using their weapons and repulsed Japanese infantry patrols while conducting reconnaissance patrols of their own. In early April, a heavy Japanese armored attack broke through and turned on their positions. After a series of battles with no reinforcements or supplies, the American surrender of Bataan ended their courageous efforts.
Kellett was taken as a prisoner of war by enemy forces and subsequently assembled into the group of prisoners that made up the Bataan Death March. The prisoners marched about 65 miles over the course of six days, were transferred to boxcars on a train, and then marched an additional seven miles to Camp O'Donnell. Kellett was finally interned at the Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp. He was reported to have died from complications related to malaria and dysentery on July 19, 1942, at age 22.
The Japanese did not adhere to the standards set forth in the Geneva Conventions, so no word of Kellett's whereabouts or condition was available. His parents, Bob and Dagmar, were only informed that he was missing in action. It was not until after the war was over, on June 15, 1945, that word of his death was communicated to the family. A memorial service was held on Aug. 5, 1945, at Salem Lutheran Church in Ironwood.
Because of the conditions in the Cabanatuan camp and the lack of records from that time period, the Army was unable to provide positive identification of Kellett's remains in the 1940s. As new technologies developed the Army continued to pursue identification, and finally in July 2019, using DNA testing of his remains and comparisons with his sister and nephews, positive identification was made. The American military "leaves no man behind," and their dogged and unrelenting efforts were proved successful in the identification of Walter J. Kellett.
In 1942, Walter was survived by his parents, Bob and Dagmar Kellett; his brother, David; and his sister, Patricia. Today he is survived by his sister, Patricia Werner; his cousins, Shirley Kellett Lehrer, Joan Kellett Minne, and June Kellett Harkans; and numerous nephews and nieces.
A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5, at the McKevitt-Patrick Funeral Home at 305 N. Lovell St. in Ironwood. Interment with military honors will be at Riverside Cemetery in Ironwood.
The family would like to invite any who knew Walter and family to attend the services.
McKevitt-Patrick Funeral Home, Ironwood, is assisting the family. For more information or to express online condolences, visit mckevittpatrickfuneralhome.com.