His eyes sparkle with vitality from the picture frame, the contours of his face soft, the smile genuine and innocent. Seven decades ago, when William David Ball Jr. left Bakersfield for the Pacific to fight the Japanese, his black hair was thick and full, his future limitless.
On Monday, he finally came home.
Ball, a sergeant in the U.S. Marines who until recently was buried nameless in an unmarked grave, was laid to rest at Bakersfield National Cemetery on Monday, exactly 74 years after he died in the Battle of Tarowa.
Ball was killed on that Japanese island as he made his way to a battlefield aid station. On his first day in that 1943 battle, he was wounded and identified for treatment but never arrived. He was declared missing in action and the following year declared dead.
His wounds were such that it took all of those 74 years and advanced forensic science to identify his remains through DNA testing and dental records.
Ball's family elected to bring his remains from Hawaii, where he had been buried as an unknown soldier, to Kern County, escorted from Los Angeles International Airport by the Los Angeles and Bakersfield Patriot Riders.
He was buried next to his brother, who served in the 101st Airborne Division.