The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Kellett arrives in Ironwood


October 4, 2019


Ironwood — The surviving sister and nephew of Walter Kellett, a soldier who died in the Philippines during World War II, were present Thursday to see his recently identified remains arrive at Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee, and sent on to Ironwood where he will be buried Saturday.

“It means a lot being here,” said Staff Sgt. T.J. Maleport, the U.P. team leader for Army funeral honors. “Lately, we’ve had a number of transfers for repatriation of remains from Korean War vets, and World War II, because they are now able to identify them.”

When the funeral coach reached Manitowish Waters a large green firetruck joined the procession, said Jerry Beirsdorf, a member of the Wisconsin Patriot Guard Riders, who drove a truck instead of the customary motorcycle for the wet and cold three-hour procession north to Ironwood. More trucks joined in Mercer, where around 50 people had hands on their hearts or were saluting along main street, he said.

There were more people along the way at restaurants, gas stations and intersections with flags, Beirsdorf said. There were about a hundred people along Hurley streets, he said.

“By the time we crossed into Michigan we had about 14 fire engines behind me,” he said.

The transports are always emotional, said Beirsdorf, a U.S. Marines veteran. At McKevitt-Patrick Funeral Home, where another transfer ceremony occurred, is when he felt of Kellett as fellow veteran, a brother.

“I’ve got a patch on my Patriot Guard vest that says, ‘It’s not about us,’ and it’s not,” he said. “To see other’s turn out and honor his return, that’s the big deal.”

Ironwood Mayor Annette Burchell, said she attended to honor a man from Ironwood who gave his life for our country. It’s a reminder that our young, our best and brightest, choose to put themselves in harms way for the nation, she said.

“World War II was such a big event and I think it touched almost every family in some way,” Burchell said. “We still have conflicts around the world and it’s a reminder to us.”

Burchell said she was also moved by the military’s ongoing efforts to identify the remains of people from former wars using modern methods.

“It could be forgotten business but they are still working toward bringing these people home,” she said. “That human story that every person is important and loved by their country and their families and friends.”

County Commissioner Jim Mildren said he attended partly in remembrance of his father, Donald, and uncle, Arlo, who both served in World War II and later talked about Kellett when he didn’t return home. Arlo worked with Kellett in the Civilian Conservation Corps, building the Black Harbor suspension bridge.

“They have the picture of all of the people who built the suspension bridge and they are in it,” he said.

That generation of Ironwood youth did everything together and they all joined up during the war together, he said.

“He (Kellett) was a part of this Ironwood community for those first 20 years,” Mildren said. “The people all knew each other and so it’s a good reason to come besides the obvious reasons.”

Kellett was a 22-year-old corporal in the U.S. Army Air Corps and stationed in the Philippines in December, 1941, when his unit was forced to surrender to Imperial Japanese Army forces after months of heavy fighting. Kellett is believed to have died of malaria and starvation in July 1942 following the infamous Bataan “death march,” was buried with other soldiers who were disinterred after the war but remained non-identifiable until a DNA match with the family on July 23, 2019.

Jim King, a U.S. Marine combat veteran in the Vietnam War, placed a welcome home sign in front of his Lowell Street house near the funeral home. It was about respect, and to remember a fellow Marine in his squad who is still listed as missing in action.

“I put this up so people would see it,” King said. “It’s a personal thing for me.”

Jim and Jeannie Milakovich stood on Lowell Street waiting to see the procession. Both of their fathers fought in World War II, and Jim served in the U.S. Army at the East and West German border in the early 1970s.

“We’re just here to honor and have him come home to rest,” Jim said.

“We’re just happy for his family that he’s finally coming home,” Jeannie said.

A memorial service for Kellett will start at 11 a.m. Saturday, at the funeral home at 305 N Lowell St. Interment with military honors will follow at Riverside Cemetery in Ironwood. The procession will follow North Lowell Street to West Ridge Street into the cemetery where Kellett will be buried in the family plot.


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