Veterans Day is a day we pause to honor our young men and women who served in the military, as well as those who still serve. Each Veterans Day I feel a need to not only remember the debt we owe our military, but to personally honor and tell the story of one special veteran who went off to war and never came home.
Many of the young boys and girls of today have never known an actual time of peace; a time when our country was not involved in one conflict or another. In 1941, life was different for those of us who were children in Edmonds School District No. 15. We had never experienced our country at war. After the ending of WWI, and the armistice of November 11, 1918, the country seemed to have that lasting peace which had been promised to us. We did have the Great Depression and other problems, but we were free from the fear of war.
In the mid-1930s upheaval and atrocities began happening in other parts of the world, but we paid little attention until war broke out in Europe in 1939. In January of 1941, everything was changing as our government began drafting the young men into the armed forces. Soon, a few of our schoolmates began leaving to serve in the military. With the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, we were officially at war. It soon became a conflict that truly enveloped the entire world.
In the United States between 1940 and 1945, approximately 15,000,000 young men and women were either drafted or enlisted in the armed forces—few families were not touched by World War II. In my own family, my two older brothers were gone from home to serve in the Pacific Theater—one to the Army and one to the Navy. At our home we waited to receive letters from them, and sometimes we waited with dread for some other type of communication. Our family was lucky; even though my brothers were in harm’s way, they both came safely home.
However, other families were not so lucky. One of those was Mr. and Mrs. George Iaeger and their family. The Iaegers were descendants of Edmonds’ pioneers and long-time Edmonds residents. However, except for an older married daughter who remained in Edmonds, the family had moved away a short time earlier and was living in Rainier, Oregon. One of their sons, William (Billy) Iaeger was born in Edmonds on December 15, 1919, and had attended school in the town of his birth.
Billy was 21 years old, unmarried and residing at Columbia City, Oregon when he enlisted in the military on July 18, 1941. In late November of 1941, Mr. and Mrs. Iaeger received a letter from their son. At that time, Billy was serving as a private in the U.S. Army Air Force, 803rd Engineer Battalion, Aviation Division—Philippine Islands. On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked and our country entered WWII. From Billy there was only silence. The letter in November was the last time the Iaegers would hear from their son.
The first news to reach the family concerning Billy was a report that he had been missing since the fall of Corregidor in the Philippines on May 5, 1942. In March of 1943, the family was notified by the Red Cross that Billy was captured during the first days of the war; had survived the infamous Bataan Death March, and was being held in a Japanese prison camp.
On July 1, 1943, the Edmonds Tribune-Review reported that word had been received by Billy’s parents that he had died in a prison camp in Japan. The date of Billy Iaeger’s death was confusing as two different dates had been reported—Dec. 14, 1942 and March 31, 1943. The latter date came from a U.S. Army doctor’s journal. It seems as if the first date, Dec. 14, 1942 is the date of death accepted by the government. That date is from the Japanese war records. Those records show that after capture, Billy survived the Bataan Death March; was then held prisoner at the Osaka Main Camp, Chikko, Osaka, Japan, where he died on Monday, Dec. 14, 1942.
As a young boy living in Edmonds, Billy had entered school in the first grade at Edmonds Grade School. He had many friends and had been a popular student. Billy was especially remembered by Frances Anderson, the long-time principal at Edmonds Grade School, and his second grade teacher. When word of Billy’s loss reached the school and Ms. Anderson, she told the children about Billy’s death in faraway Japan; they decided to use their money and buy U.S. War Bonds and dedicate them to the memory of Billy Iaeger, the young man who had been a student at their school years earlier.
Pvt. William (Billy) Iaeger is buried at the Manila American Cemetery, Fort Boniface, Manila. The accepted date of his death as shown on his gravestone is Dec. 14, 1942. The Manila American Cemetery in Manila is the largest American military cemetery on foreign soil—covering 125 acres. Billy Iaeger rests at this beautiful cemetery with well over 17,000 other military personnel. In addition to the actual burials at this cemetery, there are over 36,000 names listed on the Tablets of the Missing—these are some of the Americans who lost their lives in the South Pacific during WWII and have no known permanent resting place.
Military cemeteries on foreign soil such as the one in Manila are managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission, a small independent branch of our government established by Congress in 1923 as an agency of the executive branch of the federal government. These cemeteries and the memorials to the missing are considered among the most beautiful shrines in the world. The government issued photo with this article shows a very small section of the Manila American Cemetery, with the city of Manila in the background and the memorial to the missing in the foreground.
— By Betty Lou Gaeng