Army Pvt. William A. Boegli’s family gathered at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport on Thursday for an emotional return of the World War II soldier’s remains.

Boegli was killed at age 25 while leading a group of litter bearers to evacuate wounded soldiers in the 1944 invasion of Angaur Island. He was buried without identification that same year, and, for 75 years, his family thought he was missing.

On Thursday, Boegli’s family was allowed onto the airport’s tarmac to greet Boegli’s casket covered with an American flag. With the wind and airplane engines howling in the background, a member of the honor guard called the family around the casket and said a prayer.

After the prayer, Don McHenry, Boegli’s oldest nephew, put his hand on the casket and hung his head for a moment. McHenry said he was honoring his uncle, who he met when he was too young to remember.

“It’s nice to have him back in Montana — he’s a Montana boy,” McHenry said.

The family looked on as members of the honor guard took the casket from the airplane to the back of a nearby hearse. The Patriot Guard of Montana, mostly made of veterans riding motorcycles, and Bozeman police cars escorted the hearse from the airport to Dokken-Nelson funeral home, where services will be held for the soldier on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Morris McLees, a veteran and director of the Patriot Guard, said he was proud to do what he called the “mission,” or the escort, and happy that Boegli’s family got closure.

“It’s an absolute honor to be able to be out here, especially for someone who’s been missing for so long,” he said.

Veterans lined portions of the road from the airport to Interstate 90 to pay their respects to the soldier and his family as their cars passed.

Marine veteran Christian Wade, lined up on the roadside, said he often hears about soldiers remains being brought back from where they were buried. Time doesn’t wear off the significance for him, Wade said.

“I just think somebody should be here to pay their respects as if they just gave their lives last week,” he said.

Boegli was disinterred from Angaur Island, about 500 miles south of the Philippines, and moved to Manila where he was buried at Fort McKinley, later called the Manila American Cemetery. Boegli’s name was included on the Walls of the Missing at the cemetery, where a rosette will now be placed next to his name because he was identified.

His body was disinterred in January 2016 and sent to Hawaii by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which works to recover missing members of the military. A DNA sample from McHenry, his brother and his cousin provided to the Army in 2018 helped identify Boegli.

Boegli will be buried Saturday with full military honors at Sunset Hills Cemetery in the veterans’ section around 11:30 a.m.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2630. Follow him on Twitter @TGIFreddy.

Reporter

Freddy Monares covers politics and county government for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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