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Family still waits for closure: D-Day veterans will not be forgotten

WILLMAR — U.S. Navy Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class John E. Anderson of Willmar fought in the battles of North Africa, Sicily and Italy before giving his life for country at age 24 in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy.

Seventy years later, a community and family will remember his sacrifice and that of all those from the area who had served in World War II.

The public is welcome to join the memorial service on the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion at 7 p.m. on Friday at Anderson’s former church, the First Covenant Church, 801 Willmar Avenue Southwest, Willmar.

Anderson’s surviving family members will bring with them not only the memory of their lost one, but also the hope they hold for closure in his loss.

Family members had originally been told that Anderson’s remains had been buried at sea. Just five years ago they learned there is good reason to believe otherwise.

Jon Lindstrand of Kandiyohi has continued to work with the family in an effort to convince the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to disinter the remains of a serviceman in the Saint Laurent Cemetery, France. To date, JPAC has declined to do so.  

Lindstrand said it replied to requests by stating it did not believe there was sufficient evidence to support the effort.

Family members believe that Anderson’s remains are buried in a site identified as Unknown-91. Just over five years ago, Ted Darcy of Milton, Mass., and Brian Siddall of Ithaca, N.Y., had researched Anderson’s records as part of their mission with the WFI Research Group of Fall River, Mass, to help families locate the remains of family members recorded as missing in action.

In the case of John E. Anderson, it is believed that a mix up of records following the D-Day Invasion led to his remains being interred as Unknown-91.

The records show that Anderson was in the engine room of the transport ship USS LST-30 when it took an artillery strike after having discharged troops with the 467th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion on the French coast near Colleville on D-Day.

The records mix-up had led the military to inform John E. Anderson’s parents, Oscar E. and Anna Anderson of Willmar, that their son had been buried at sea. The research by WFT indicates that the remains of Anderson and another crew member killed in the strike, Richard Jared Taylor of Taunton, Mass., were recovered and turned over to the Army.  Both bodies were buried in the Saint Laurent Cemetery, but only Taylor’s grave was identified.

Surviving family members believe it always troubled Anderson’s parents that his remains may have been lost at sea and could not be returned home.

Kandiyohi County lost about 100 veterans in World War II, according to Lindstrand. Even before he graduated from the Willmar High School in 1997, Lindstrand has been collecting the stories of veterans from the area, along with uniforms and memorabilia. Today he offers the stories on his website, and he holds an annual display of the uniforms and artifacts.

He has researched the records of John Anderson and continues to press the military to identify the remains in France, convinced that Anderson’s remains are in the site Unknown-91. Lindstrand said he has come to think of Anderson as family, and has no intentions of stopping his efforts to see that the family has closure.

He hopes that this Friday, community members will join to show the families of all who lost veterans in World War II that they are not forgotten.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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