DNA could identify prisoner of war’s remains: WWII Pvt. Hulon L. Raper had Wilson County roots

Posted Monday, April 13, 2020 6:11 pm

By Drew C. Wilson

dwilson@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7818

Pvt. Hulon Lee Raper’s family just wants to find him and bring him home.

Now, some 78 years after the Bataan Death March and Raper’s death in a prisoner of war camp, a genealogist working on behalf of the U.S. Army has reached out to the soldier’s Wilson County and Johnston County family members asking for DNA to verify that the remains the government has found are that of the World War II serviceman from Kenly.

“All these years, nobody knew what happened to him,” said Bonnie Kaye House, Raper’s niece. “It’s been an issue our whole life, and I would love for him to go back home to his mama and daddy.”

House is one of four relatives whose biological data could establish that the remains are Pvt. Raper’s.


Hulon Lee Raper, born Aug. 3, 1921, in Wilson County, just outside Kenly, was a member of the U.S. Army 454 Ordnance Co., Aviation, in the Philippines when Japanese troops captured him on April 9, 1942. Raper joined 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners who were marched 66 miles to prisoner of war camps after the fall of Bataan. Thousands died along the way.

Raper ended up at the largest camp, the Cabanatuan Prison Camp, in Nueva Ecija Province, Central Luzon, Philippines, where 8,000 prisoners were held.

Raper died of malaria on June 24, 1942, at the age of 20. He’s thought to have been buried in a communal camp grave.

Genealogist Paul Stoetzel of Eagle Investigative Services, working on behalf of the U.S. Army’s Past Conflicts Repatriation Branch, recently reached out to Raper’s relatives asking if they would donate DNA in an effort to positively identify the soldier.

“When I do my genealogical research, I reach out to the families and speak with them about it to find out if they would be willing to take a DNA test,” Stoetzel said. “The PCRB actually does the reach-out for the test. They will send them the kit. They will talk with them about the results or anything like that. I am a documentary genealogist, not a DNA guy, so I just identify the people who can take the tests.”

Along with House, Shirley Shirley of the Beulah community, Wayne Stone of Wilson and Woody Raper of Virginia were identified to take the DNA tests.

Raper’s parents were Matthew Turner Raper and Pearcy Ellen Lamm Raper. All four of those identified to take the test are descendants of Raper’s siblings.

Raper’s parents lived out their lives never knowing what happened to their son.

Most burials at the Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp Cemetery were on a mass grave basis, according to Bill Costello, public affairs officer with the U.S. Army Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky, home of the Past Conflicts Repatriation Branch.

“Many discrepancies were noted in the recording of burials, which may have been due to the fact that the interments of bodies were made under wartime conditions and under the supervision of the Japanese,” Costello said “With the advancement of technology, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is currently re-looking and will eventually disinter all Cabanatuan losses in hopes of positively identifying these soldiers and reuniting them with their families. To aid in this process, the U.S. Army has contracted the services of certified genealogy companies who try to identify the soldiers’ current primary next of kin, secondary next of kin and DNA-eligible family members who are willing to aid in the identification process.”


House’s mother, Gladys Raper House, was 10 when big brother Hulon Lee went to war at age 17.

“She remembered how he cried because he didn’t want to go to war. She was the baby girl, and he was the baby boy,” House recalled her mother saying. “There were five of them that went, and he was the only one that cried and didn’t want to go.”

“Delma, Henry, Leslie, Wilbert, Hulon Lee, all brothers, were in World War II at the same time,” House said. “The Raper family had five candles in the window honoring their sons, the custom at the time.”

All of them came home except for Hulon Lee.

The family has a history of military service.

“My fourth great-grandfather, Robert Raper, served with Gen. Washington at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania,” House said.

Gladys House named her firstborn son Hulon Lee in honor of her missing brother. The little boy died at the age of 4 months.

“It just resurfaced the pain and the sorrow,” Shirley said of her mother, Gladys.

Excerpt; read more at https://wakeweekly.com/stories/dna-could-identify-pow-remains-s2,206107

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