HAMILTON — In 1942, Army Pvt. Wayne M. Evans died as a prisoner of war in the Philippines.
On Saturday, just shy of 80 years later, Evans' remains were returned to his hometown of Hamilton, Montana with a proper military homecoming and funeral service.
Pvt. Evans was born in 1921 and graduated from Hamilton High School in 1939. He later served in the army with his brother Robert.
The two were very close in age and personality, according to Robert's son Dean Evans.
“Oh, they were together all the time, they were only a year apart and they graduated high school at the same high school here in Hamilton," Evans said,"knowing my dad's character, I know my uncle Wayne was an awesome guy.”
The two brothers were stationed in the Philippine Islands during their service, when Japanese forces invaded and interned them at Cabanatuan Prisoner of War camp.
According to historical records, Wayne Evans died at that camp in 1942 at just 21 years old.
Three years later, Robert Wayne was one of hundreds liberated by U.S. Army Rangers in what’s known as the "Great Raid" - the largest rescue in military history. He lived a long life and died in 1996.
“They're looking down on us right now, and my dad carried the burden for years of him coming home and his brother not making it with him. So, this would be a great day for my Dad,” Evans said.
During World War II, hundreds of thousands of U.S. Military service members lost their lives. Many remains never made it back to American soil.
More than 2,500 POWs perished in the Cabanatuan camp during the war. All were buried in a local cemetary.
Following the war, those remains were exhumed and relocated to a temporary military mausoleum near Manila.
In 2018, the remains were disinterred and sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency's laboratory at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Wayne Evan’s remains were identified at that time using DNA analysis.
“Oh, it's a great day for my family to finally have him home and stateside, and it's a sad day also, because my dad wasn't here to see this and my grandparents weren't. So it's been a long time coming. It's a bittersweet day," Dean Evans said.
“I just hope everybody realizes the sacrifice that families make, and they'll look up to our military.”
The word repatriate means to return to one’s own county. Active members of the Montana Army National Guard led Saturday's military funeral service to repatriate Evans back to Hamilton.
About 30 friends and family members were in attendance, along with the Hamilton and Corvallis American Legions, a Navy Reservist, and other veterans groups
A rifle salute, the sound of taps, and the folding and presenting of the flag honored the homecoming of the fallen hero.
The return of Pvt. Wayne Evans to Hamilton marked not only the celebration of his life, but a dream his brother and parents held come true. They now all lay to rest together at Riverside Cemetery.
Funeral services were preformed by Daly Leach Memorial Chapel. To watch the full-stream of the service or read Pvt. Evans' obituary visit their website.