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A hero's service, burial for Minnesota man who died in WWII but unidentified for decades

WILLMAR, Minn. -- Seventy-two years after he fought and died in battle 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, surrou...

WILLMAR, Minn. -- Seventy-two years after he fought and died in battle  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.

“I thought today was very appropriate. It had a great spirit to it,” said Don Franklin, Anderson’s nephew.

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.

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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.

Also at the ceremony was U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who assisted in finally bringing Anderson home by writing a letter of support for the family and sending it to the Navy.

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“When we found out their wishes had come true, it was an amazing day,” Klobuchar said prior to the service.

Klobuchar also spoke during the memorial service.

“We want to honor the life of John Anderson and thank him for making the ultimate sacrifice,” Klobuchar said during her remarks at the memorial service.

She also recognized Anderson’s family for their years of hard work in bringing him home.

“What is most remarkable is what Anderson’s story tells about his family, service and his community. His family never stopped searching, never gave up,” Klobuchar said.

Dozens of people from the surrounding area, many who did not know Anderson or his family attended the service and burial.

The community had  lined the streets on Thursday as Anderson’s remains were brought into town. They came to the service at the auditorium. They stood in the rain as prayers were said, “Taps” was played and the flag was folded at the cemetery.

“It was very rewarding. We feel part of the Willmar community,” Franklin said.

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State Sen. Lyle Koenen said he was pleased to see the community support.

“I’m happy to see that what we see here is normal practice. I’m really glad to see that,” Koenen said.

The arrangements for Anderson’s memorial service and burial were by Peterson Brothers Funeral Homes in Willmar, and Lance Peterson thought the day went well, despite the weather.

“It was a very nice, honorable tribute to John, bringing him back home and burying him in our hometown cemetery. It’s an honor to be part of history,” Peterson said.

At one point Franklin thought the closest he would ever come to finding out what happened to his uncle was when he visited the cemetery in Normandy and saw Anderson’s name carved in a memorial for those missing in action. He is gratified to know that now his uncle is home and his memory will live on.

“I feel like I’ve justified and revered his contributions,” Franklin said.

Now Anderson’s name on the Walls of the Missing at the Normandy American Cemetery will have a rosette beside it, marking him as recovered and identified.

“The family deserves this like any other family. He deserves to be honored in this way,” Klobuchar said.

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