MARION, Iowa (AP) — Since he gave his life fighting in World War II, William "Bill" Querl has rested in plot B, row 15, grave 14 of the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.
Querl loved his eastern Iowa hometown, Williamsburg. And today his niece Marilea Schmidt, 81, of Marion, is trying to bring him home to the town he loved.
The American Red Cross brought the news to Querl's mother, Ida, on Sept. 17, 1942. At this time her two sons were overseas fighting, her husband had died in a car accident a few weeks before and she was on the verge of losing her home.
In a moment of stress and grief, Ida Querl signed a paper, and her son was buried in the Philippines, a decision she'd come to regret.
"So she had no one to confer with and talk to about it, and I think just in the (stress) of everything, she just said, 'Oh well, leave his body there,'" Schmidt told The Des Moines Register . "She regretted doing that, I know, many times after doing that, but she was just up against a wall really."
Ida Querl was reminded of this regret every year when laying flowers at a tombstone with no body.
In Williamsburg, funeral arrangements await the soldier. A local church donated a grave plot. Schmidt arranged military honors for a ceremony, if only Querl can come home.
Even after she enlisted the help of a senator, her grandmother's decision to sign that paper complicates Schmidt's mission.
Bill Querl kept his family updated as he explored outside the United States for the first time. Picture showing Querl in front of a Lime Cola ad or sitting on a fountain make him look like a tourist.
Eventually he was captured, and in April 1942, five months before his death, Querl endured the Bataan Death March, trekking 65 miles to prison camps alongside 75,000 Filipino and American troops. It's not known how he died.
The Querl family got one more look into Bill Querl's final years through a book published in 1997, "Oh, God, Where are You?"
The late author, Abie Abraham, served in the Philippines for nine years. He endured 3½ years of imprisonment and the Bataan Death March. He took the names of the men he met and memorialized them in his 599-page book.
A neighbor she recommended the book to had never learned what happened to his brother who served in the war. In Abraham's book, the man found his brother's name and how he died.
Another person mentioned is a man from Abraham's regiment who talked incessantly of his hometown. Bill Querl.
"People back home wouldn't believe all of this if we told them," Querl is quoted saying.
"He was trying his best to get home," Schmidt recalled Abie Abraham saying, "He was just too weak, he couldn't do it."
Abraham observed Querl singing, "Ida, nothing is finah than my Ida." Abraham asked him why he sang this song, to which Querl replied, "Well, the woman in my life is my mother, Ida."
Abraham signed Schmidt's copy of his book, "William Querl of Williamsburg gave so much for his country ... he should be remembered and never forgotten."
Schmidt's father, Lee, was on a ship to invade Japan when Querl died. The youngest Querl, Clifford, had just enlisted in the Navy. The three brothers who were inseparable when home would never unite after war.
A Japanese man approached Lee Querl while he was serving and said, "You killed my son." Querl simply responded, "Well, you killed my brother."
The two surviving Querl boys often told Schmidt, "You know everything that's free in this country is because of your uncle."
Schmidt said this search for closure is as much for her father, who died at age of 62, as it is for her uncle.
"His (Querl) name never ever got completely out of the conversation," Schmidt said. "Maybe a week or so, and then pretty soon somebody would come and they'd say something about Bill. They just never forgot him."
According to veteransaid.org, 86,551 World War II soldiers are buried overseas at American burial sites. Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, where Querl is buried, is the largest American World War II cemetery overseas, with 17,206 graves.
These numbers do not include troops who were never recovered.
Greg Thorne, a supervisor and moratory affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command, said he sees cases like Schmidt's once or twice a year. His job is to work with the families of fallen soldiers and assist with their needs.
Bringing fallen soldiers home has always been complicated, he said.
"During World War II, it took about a month, two months to get the remains home," Thorne said.
The process now takes a couple of weeks.
Schmidt said she thinks — though disinterment costs would have been covered by the government within a grace period — that money may have played a role in the number of soldiers left overseas.
Schmidt first brought her problem to Iowa County Veterans Affairs director Jennifer Olson, who called Schmidt's request "incredibly rare." She said she doesn't know of anybody in her field who have come across a challenge like this.
"For being a local veterans' services officer, there's not a lot that we can do directly," Olson said.
Thorne said Schmidt would first need to petition for the disinterment. Since the grace period has long passed, the entire cost of moving Querl's remains from the Philippines falls on the family.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs lays out a list of living immediate family members who must give their consent for a disinterment. Niece is not listed, but Schmidt is the last living relative born before his death. He had no wife or children when he died.
Schmidt enlisted Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to help bring Querl home. He passed the inquiry on to the U.S. Department of Defense, which did not respond to a request for comment.
"We are trying to determine what can be done," Grassley said in an emailed statement. "Anyone can understand the Schmidt family's desire to have their loved one who died fighting for our country return home to be buried with other family members."
Through letters to officials and newspapers and endless calls, Schmidt continues her efforts to bring William back to Williamsburg again.
"I think it's just going to be this final feeling, that everybody that's in my family's been accounted for," Schmidt said.