GARDINER — Albert Walter Wiley, the first Gardiner man who is known to have died in World War II, is currently buried at a veterans cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii.

But members of American Legion Post 4 – also known as Smith-Wiley Post – recently decided to spend $3,665 to have his remains disinterred, cremated and mailed to Maine.

“It’s a situation where his body is in the wrong place,” said John Mullett, commander of the Gardiner post. “We felt that it would be an honorable thing to bring him home.”

Wiley was stationed in the Indian city of Karachi – now part of Pakistan – when he died of heat exhaustion on May 4, 1942, according to his death certificate. He was 35 at the time, a welder by training and a private serving with the 51st Air Base Group.

“He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow, and increase its blessings,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote in a letter at the time, to mark Wiley’s death. “Freedom lives, and through it, he lives.”

His remains were first buried in a British military cemetery in Karachi, then moved to an American military cemetery in another Indian city 1,400 miles away. There they stayed for a few years, the death certificate indicates, under a wooden cross and between the remains of two other U.S. soldiers, a second lieutenant and a radio technician.

The military again considered where to move Wiley’s body in 1949, according to official correspondence that has been collected by Roger Paradis, a historian for American Legion Post 4 who has researched Wiley’s background.

Wiley was unmarried when he entered the Army, and his only next-of-kin was a daughter, Arden Wiley, who was just 18 years old when the military tried to get in touch with her.

But Arden Wiley – who later took her husband’s last name, Clement – is now 86 and does not recall receiving that correspondence. Clement barely knew her father, she said Monday in an interview at her Augusta home. And even if she had, Maine’s burial laws did not qualify someone under 21 to have full next-of-kin rights.

That’s why, some 65 years later, a group of Gardiner area veterans has pooled its resources to bring Wiley’s remains back to his state of birth.

The American Legion post got half its name from Wiley, the first Gardiner soldier believed to have died in World War II, and the other half from Benjamin Smith, another hometown hero, who died in World War I, Mullett said.

Paradis, the post historian, came up with the idea of bringing Wiley’s remains home a few years ago, after he began digging into the man’s history. Paradis contacted Clement, who told him what little information she had about her father. He also petitioned Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, with the hope that they might pull some strings to get the veteran’s remains relocated.

But the senators weren’t able to help, Mullett said, so the post got a quote from an Oahu funeral home for removing Wiley’s casket from the ground ($2,950), cremating his remains ($350) and mailing them to Staples Funeral Home in Gardiner ($200).

On Sunday, the post voted to pay for the services itself.

The next step, Mullett said, will be for his group to contact the relevant authorities to schedule a full military funeral for Wiley at Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.

The group’s main reason for doing it, Mullet said, is “so his daughter can be at the funeral and observing her father being interred. She doesn’t have the finances, so we wanted to do it for her.”

Clement, who lives near the veterans memorial cemetery, is grateful to Paradis for the time and effort he has invested in bringing Wiley back. As a young woman, Clement visited her father’s grave in Hawaii and said if his remains return to Maine, she intends to do so again.

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

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