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Epilogue for a lost Marine

Billy Lynch left Dorchester 72 years ago, and they’re pretty sure they’ve finally found him, a long way from home, deep in the ground in China.

Staff Sergeant Billy Lynch was a Marine. He grew up on Victory Road, and if you go to the corner of Victory and Neponset Avenue, you’ll see the black street sign with the gold star that commemorates William Joseph Lynch Square. It is a place of honor for a Marine who disappeared 67 years ago.

He left Neponset for the Marines in 1937, right out of high school, and never came back. He was stationed in China when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and then went to the Philippines and was there when the Japanese invaded. After the battle of Corregidor in 1942, the Japanese took him prisoner.

They beat him but couldn’t break him. As soon as he could run, Billy Lynch ran from the prison camp. The Japanese caught him and beat him again, worse, and then they put him on a “hell ship’’ to China, with no ventilation, no toilet, no water, no food. It was a death march at sea.
A lot of POWs died on the hell ships, but Billy Lynch wouldn’t give his captors the satisfaction. They stuck him in a prison camp called Mukden and he escaped again. Some of the local Chinese hid him, but a 6-foot white guy from Dorchester stood out in Manchuria, and the Japanese recaptured him.

They beat him again, and there would be no third escape for Billy Lynch. He was sent to another camp, Port Arthur, now known by its Chinese name, Lushun. Billy Lynch’s captors tortured him, peeling the skin from his body before killing him, cutting him up, and stuffing his remains in a barrel that was sealed.

Some years ago, a Chinese historian named Yang Jing became intrigued with Prisoner No. 610, the only American POW never accounted for in China. He started digging, figuratively, looking for Billy Lynch.
Professor Yang found three elderly Chinese men who were slave laborers at Port Arthur and knew about the murder, dismemberment, and burial of Staff Sergeant Billy Lynch.

When Yang learned that Lynch was from Boston, he contacted John McColgan, the city’s archivist. McColgan knocked on every door on Victory Road but couldn’t find anyone who remembered the Lynches. McColgan asked Marie Daly, a genealogist at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, for help.

Daly, a detective in librarian’s clothing, found Lynch’s two nieces, Judy Armour in Bridgewater and Janet Sambuceti in Marshfield. Their DNA will prove, once and for all, whether Billy Lynch is in the ground in Manchuria.

Yesterday, a FedEx pilot named Ryan Bach and a former Marine from Norwell named Mark Voner walked around the spot in Lushun where they believe Billy Lynch’s bones rest. It’s getting too cold to dig, so the plan is to bring in an archeological team next spring.

Bach and Voner are part of a volunteer group called Moore’s Marauders, dedicated to finding American MIAs like Billy Lynch. Moore’s Marauders will send scientists over next spring.

Voner was badly wounded when the Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up in 1983, killing 241 Marines, soldiers, and sailors.

“It’s fitting that there is a Marine there right now, looking for the last Marine in China,’’ said Fred Sullivan, one of the Dorchester residents who support the cause of finding Billy Lynch. “We had to raise $25,000 to pay for the search, but it’s worth every penny. Billy Lynch should come home.’’

If, as they believe, their dig next spring yields Billy Lynch’s bones, he will come home, finally, first to St. Ann’s Church, where he made his First Communion, then on to Arlington National Cemetery.

“He deserves to be home,’’ Judy Armour said of the uncle she never met and never forgot. “That’s why he kept escaping. He kept trying, no matter what they did to him. He wanted to come home.’’

Kevin Cullen is a Boston Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Reprinted with permission from The Boston Globe.