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World War II soldier’s remains return home to Wisner

November 13, 2018

WISNER — Pvt. First Class Morris Worrell was brought to his hometown for burial Saturday — 76 years after his death.

Although he died in a prisoner of war camp in the Philippine Islands, Worrell returned home to Wisner for a celebration of his life that was filled with peace.

Several family members worked diligently with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency of the U.S. Pentagon and an agency known as Bataan Missing to locate Worrell’s remains. They had been resting for decades in a mass grave at the Manila-American Cemetery in the Philippines.

One of Worrell’s nieces, Theresa Ramirez of Norfolk, began a search for Worrell’s whereabouts in 2015.

“I grew up knowing him,” she said of the stories family members told of him even though Worrell died before she was born.

With help from various agencies, DNA samples provided by three of Worrell’s close family members proved to be a match.

Born in 1921, Worrell grew up in Wisner. He enlisted at the age of 18 and served in Company F of the 31st Infantry Regiment in the Philippines. When Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the 2nd Battalion, of which Worrell was a member, was stationed at Nichols Field near Manila on the island of Luzon.

Japanese air raids pounded the island next, with a full-scale invasion on Dec. 22.

Suffering tremendous losses, U.S. troops surrendered and Worrell became a prisoner of the Japanese. As a result, he was subjected to a 70-mile, six-day march from Bataan to Camp Cabanautuan, which came to be known as the Bataan Death March.

Worrell died at the camp on Sept. 27, 1942, a victim of Japanese brutality, malaria and dysentery. His family held a memorial service for him in August 1943 after learning of his death.

The first service to honor Worrell was at the United Methodist Church in Wisner; the second one took place Saturday at its successor, the United Methodist Church of Christ, also in Wisner.

Worrell was the first son of the Wisner community to be lost in action during World War II, said pastor Coral Parmenter, who led the service. Worrell died one week before his 21st birthday.

Those of the Wisner community who knew him also remember a Gold Star in the window of the Worrell home, signifying a person killed in the war. Blue stars in the Worrell window stood for three of Worrell’s brothers who also served in the military.

Worrell’s awards, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, were presented Saturday to his oldest living relative, Lois Miller of Provo, Utah.

On hand to make the presentations were Maj. Barbara Blanke and Sgt. Maj. Shawn Blanke, both of the Utah National Guard; and Sgt. 1st Class Chad Pokorney of Norfolk, who is with the Nebraska National Guard.

Burial was in the Wisner Cemetery with military honors by the Nebraska National Guard, Wisner American Legion Post 185, and Wisner Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5767.

Worrell’s remains were brought to Wisner on Thursday, escorted from the Omaha airport by the Patriot Guard Riders and the American Legion Riders of Beemer. Accompanying them was Staff Sgt. Patricia Hazelwood with the U.S. Army 303 EOD Battalion at Scofield Barracks, Hawaii.

She carried the urn with Worrell’s remains with her from the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii.

Unlike the last few weeks of his life, Worrell was treated respectfully, family members were told. Of Pvt. Worrell, Sgt Hazelwood said, “I held him all the way from Hawaii.”

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