Today is Memorial Day--which was Decoration Day until 1971, when it became a federal holiday. Decoration Day grew from dozens of local ceremonies immediately following the Civil War, including the moving story of African Americans in Charleston who worked to give fallen Union soldiers a proper burial and remembrance.
We thought of these origins when we read the story late last week of John Emanuel Anderson's return to Minnesota in the West Central Tribune story, A hero's service for Anderson as he is laid to rest:
Seventy-two years after he gave his all off the coast of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, U.S. Navy Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class John Emanuel Anderson was laid to rest Saturday in his hometown of Willmar, surrounded by family, veterans, dignitaries and members of the community. Under a rainy sky they came together, not only to say goodbye, but to say thank you. It was a somber occasion but one that was also a celebration. . . .
Anderson’s remains were identified by DNA testing in 2015 and disinterred for reburial next to his parents in Willmar’s Fairview Cemetery.
The memorial service took place at Willmar’s War Memorial Auditorium, followed by the burial at Fairview Cemetery. The Willmar Brass Quintet provided the music and the playing of Taps, while the Minneapolis Navy Operational Support Center and Army Reserve/National Guard Honor Guard were on hand to perform the military honors, including acting as the pallbearers, folding the American flag and providing a gun salute.
Retired Brigadier General Dean Johnson of the United States Army National Guard gave the open and closing remarks and prayers at the service.
“You waited, wondered and questioned. Now he is finally home,” Johnson said.
After his death on D-Day Anderson had been buried as an unknown in the Normandy American Military Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. His family was told he was missing in action, lost at sea after his LCT-30 tank landing craft was hit by enemy fire. His parents and three sisters died never knowing what had happened to Anderson. It took years of research, letters, phone calls and hope for Anderson to be positively identified, a moment his family thought might never have come.
“The journey was long and arduous,” Franklin said, one of nine nieces and nephews of Anderson.
Helping along the way was Jon Lindstrand, curator of the U.S. Military Historical Collection, who worked tirelessly for four years on Anderson’s case.
“It means those who were lost will not be forgotten. John’s story offers hope. Hope that they will all come home,” Lindstrand said during the memorial service. . . .
In Willmar Sailor’s Remains Return Home After 72 Years, WCCO reported:
About 1,000 people lined the street to honor the missing sailor during the procession home. A public memorial Saturday brought out hundreds to honor his life.
“After all this time, to know exactly where he’s at and to have him back here at home is just huge,” Lindstrand said.
Read and watch both reports.
Anderson's obituary in the West Central Tribune reveals that he had plans for his life before he paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Normandy invasion on D-Day:
John Emanuel Anderson was born in Willmar, Minnesota, on September 25, 1919, to Oscar and Anna Anderson. He was raised in Willmar and graduated from high school in 1937, after which he worked for his father as a painter and decorator, planning eventually to take over his father's business. Following the outbreak of W.W. II in 1941, John enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He trained throughout the U.S. as a Motor Machinist. After serving in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, John was sent to England to prepare for the Invasion of the European Mainland in January of 1944.
John was the couple's only son, the youngest of four children.
His return--and the generous public support by the regional center that's home to just under 20,000 people, none of whom now are related to the fallen sailor--is a reminder that many Americans still honor those who sacrificed for this nation. Rest in peace, John Anderson.
For myself, I'm remembering my uncle John D. Osborne of Madelia, who died of a blow to the head while a prisoner of war near Malmedy, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.
Photo: Citizens lined the streets to honor Anderson. Photo via WCCO news.
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