The remains of Pvt. William Yawney will finally be laid to rest this Memorial Day weekend, nearly 69 years after he was killed during World War II.
Yawney, was born March 22 1921 and died July 7, 1944 during a Japanese attack on US forces on Saipan Island in the Marianas. He was a member of Company D, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division.
Although his body remained missing until 2011, when they were discovered on the Island of Saipan and identified through DNA technology in Hawaii, Pvt. Yawney was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He is now being returned to Pennsylvania for full military burial in the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Cemetery in Northampton, PA this Saturday (May 25th).
According to his obituary, William grew up in Freemansburg, PA and attended school there. As a young man he worked at Laraus Silk Mill and then the Bethlehem Steel before joining the Army. He enjoyed sports and played softball and basketball in Freeman burg.
Survivors include his brother, Harry W. Yawney of S. Burlington, VT; sister, Olga wife of Nick Zawarski of Bethlehem; PA , nephew, John Yawney of Allentown, PA; niece, Carol Ann Sieling of Bethlehem; and numerous other nieces and nephews.
Bombardment of Saipan began on June 13,1944, involving fifteen battleships. By 7 July, the Japanese had nowhere to retreat, and made plans for a final suicidal “banzai” charge led by Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito.
At dawn, with a group of 12 men carrying a great red flag in the lead, the remaining able-bodied troops (approximately 3,000 men) charged forward in the final attack, followed by wounded civilians and soliders with bandaged heads, crutches, and barely armed. The Japanese surged over the American front lines, engaging both army and marine units. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Infantry Regiment were almost destroyed, losing 650 killed and wounded, including Pvt. Yawney. However, the fierce resistance of these two battalions, as well as that of Headquarters Company, 105th Infantry, and supply elements of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Artillery Regiment resulted in over 4,300 Japanese killed.
By July 9th, Admiral Richmond K. Turner announced that Saipan was officially secured, and that Saito (along with commanders Hirakushi and Igeta) had committed suicide in a cave. Also committing suicide at the end of the battle was Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo — the naval commander who led the Japanese carriers at Pearl Harbor and Midway — who had been assigned to Saipan to direct the Japanese naval air forces based there.
In the end, almost the entire garrison of at least 30,000 troops on the island died. For the Americans, the victory was the most costly to date in the Pacific War. 2,949 Americans were killed and 10,464 wounded, out of 71,000 who landed on the island.