Nearly 80-years after he was killed in action in World War II, Army Pvt. Hillary Soileau finally returned home to St. Landry Parish Tuesday.
The 23-year-old went missing during a mission to clear Guadalcanal of Japanese forces in January 1943. His remains were recently identifiedthrough a forensics investigation by The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
An honor guard and members of Soileu’s family were waiting on the tarmac as the plane carrying Pvt. Soileau’s flag-draped coffin landed at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
“We both touched the casket at the exact same time and said ‘welcome home’ at the exact same time,” said Soileau’s nephew, Greg Badeaux. He was joined on the tarmac by a cousin he’s never met, USMC Capt. Joseph Soileau, who followed in his great-uncle’s footsteps in the military. “It was an honor, a great opportunity to have him involved because of his military background.”
Capt. Soileau, a Port Barre-native, only recently found out about his great-uncle, through news reports that his remains had been identified. He drove to Louisiana overnight from North Carolina where he’s stationed, so he could be on hand for the dignified transfer of his great-uncle’s remains.
“It was a surreal experience to reach out and touch a casket knowing that the contents were very heavy,” said Capt. Soileau. “It was heavy in a sense that it was traumatic in the way that he passed, but joyful in that it brings a little closure to my family.”
Pvt. Soileau’s remains were then brought back to St. Landry Parish with an escort by Louisiana State Police.
“It was quite a moment,” said Badeaux. “The honor guard and everyone in charge of this process was just amazing.”
Funeral Services for Pvt. Soileau will be held on May 21, 2022, at Sibille Funeral Home, located at 2309 George Drive in Opelousas. Visitation for the family will start at 8:30 am, with the public invited to attend at 9:00 am. Rosary will begin at 10:45 am followed by Chapel services at 11:00 am. A procession will begin around 11:30 am and will conclude with the burial and graveside honors at Cedar Hill Cemetery, located at 702 Cedar Hill Rd., in Washington.