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Utah World War II POW returned to family 81 years after his death

SALT LAKE CITY — Eighty-one years after his death, Utah World War II POW Ballard Yeates has returned to Utah.

Yeates’ remains arrived at Salt Lake City International Airport Tuesday afternoon, to about a dozen family members and a full military escort.

“When I looked at the casket and realized he was there within touching distance, which we had never had him, it was a glorious moment,” Nedra Yeates Pace, a niece, said.

Yeates, who grew up in Millville, Cache County, joined the Army Air Force in 1941 and was sent to the Philippines as a Technician 5th Grade. In 1942, when the U.S. surrendered the Bataan Peninsula, he was one of nearly 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese and was subjected to brutal treatment, including the Bataan Death March, which was a 65-mile march to the POW camps.

Yeates passed away in the Cabanatuan POW camp on July 29, 1942, due to sickness, but his family wasn’t informed of his death until two years later. Then in 1949, his family held a burial service in Millville, Utah.

“We have put flowers on a grave for 75 years,” Pace said.

In 2023, Pace said she received a call from the U.S. Army Repatriation Committee in Hawaii, informing her that Yeates’ remains had been positively identified by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. A DNA match was made thanks to a DNA sample provided by a family member.

“When they called and told us that they had identified his remains, I shrieked into the phone, I cried quite a lot actually, and everyone I called had the same reaction, unbelief,” she said.

Pace said while she didn’t know her uncle personally, she knew his story and of his sacrifice. She said many of the stories were provided by her father, who was also a POW. She said having Yeates’ remains now correctly identified and returned home brings her family a sense of joy and closure.

“It was everything we hoped it would be,” she said. “Somehow that family connection is always there, and it’s even stronger. “

Another burial service for Yeates, with full military honors, will be held Saturday at the Millville City Cemetery. Pace said it will be another opportunity for the family to reconnect and honor the life of a wonderful man.

“I haven’t seen some of these people in 30-40 years, like Ballard his namesake is coming, we grew up and had a history, and we are just feeling the knitting again of being able to join together as a family,” Pace said.

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