Burial set for remains of World War II soldier from Perrysville
William J. Mall Jr. was just 10 when his cousin from Perrysville wrote from gunnery school in the Midwest.
Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. Charles L. Johnston Jr. wrote him about B-24 bombers and .50 caliber guns before he deployed to fight the Japanese.
Mall, who grew up in Glenshaw, didn’t know anyone his age who got letters from a World War II soldier.
Then “he went missing,” said Mall, 82, of Fullerton, Calif. “I wasn’t sure what that meant myself.”
Mall and about a dozen other relatives will gather Monday at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington to bury Johnston. The Department of Defense alerted them in September that the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which scours the world for lost service members, had found Johnston’s remains in Madong Province, Papua New Guinea.
Mall and his sister, the closest surviving relatives, provided DNA samples to confirm the identity of their cousin, who was among a dozen service members to disappear April 10, 1944, on a mission against Japanese anti-aircraft sites. Investigators uncovered Johnston’s remains at the crash site of the team’s B-24D Liberator, according to the Department of Defense.
Johnston was 20 when he died. Mall said his onetime pen pal deserves a final resting place at Arlington, one of two national cemeteries administered by the Army.
“That’s where he belongs — rather than let his memory die in some jungle somewhere,” said Mall, a retired Air Force major general who flew combat missions in Vietnam and was a bomber pilot during the Cuban missile crisis. “I think it’s great we can honor him here.”
He said family members from South Carolina to Massachusetts will assemble for the burial, which cemetery spokeswoman Melissa Bohan said will include military honors and begin about 11:45 a.m. A preceding service at the nearby Old Post Chapel is set for 10:45 a.m.
Bohan said a military band will play as a horse-drawn caisson carries Johnston’s casket to the grave site. She said a firing party will discharge a three-rifle volley, a bugler will play “Taps,” and a team of soldiers will present Mall, designated as next of kin, with a folded United States flag used in the proceedings.
Returns of remains “are considered repatriations, so they’re done at Arlington for all theaters” of war, Bohan said. She estimated the cemetery hosts burials a couple of dozen times each year for soldiers whose remains are recovered overseas.
Other soldiers are buried in their hometowns or other sites, according to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. It recovers remains for about 80 service members a year, said Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan.
She said Johnston joined the military in fall 1942.
Mall said he wants to honor not only his cousin but the work of the accounting command.
“We really weren’t that close. But now that we know all about him, there are members of our family who are coming a long way to pay their respects. Now they have a relative they know something about who was a World War II hero,” Mall said. “Any time they visit Washington now, they have a place to go to honor him.”
Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.