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Sailor’s remains to return to Willmar

WILLMAR -- Oscar Anderson never recovered from the emotional heartbreak he suffered when a telegram arrived June 6, 1944, with the news of his son's death in the D-Day invasion of France.Hard too was the last official news the family received fro...

John E. Anderson

WILLMAR - Oscar Anderson never recovered from the emotional heartbreak he suffered when a telegram arrived June 6, 1944, with the news of his son’s death in the D-Day invasion of France.
Hard too was the last official news the family received from the military. It told them Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class John E. Anderson, 24, had been lost at sea.
Oscar and Anna Anderson went to their graves feeling there was no solution or closure in the loss of their son, said Don Franklin of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Franklin, now 77, once went to the beaches of Normandy where he saw his nephew’s name inscribed on a monument to those listed as “missing in action’’ in the invasion. “It’s always sort of hanging in the air, what really happened,’’ Franklin said.
“Now we have an answer,’’ Franklin said.
And today, the surviving family members of John E. Anderson and the community he once called home will have the closure that has eluded all for 72 years.
The remains of John E. Anderson will return to Willmar around 8 p.m. today when they are delivered to the Peterson Brothers Funeral Home.
On Saturday, the community is invited to gather at 1 p.m. at the Willmar War Memorial Auditorium for a service to remember John. E. Anderson. Franklin said surviving family members will be joined by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Shortly after, they will host a committal service at the Fairview Cemetery, where John E. Anderson’s remains will be interred alongside those of his parents.
For all of these 72 years, they had been interred in the American Cemetery in France, in a grave marked “Unknown X-91.’’
The family’s answer was made possible by a discovery in 2009 by Ted Darcy of Virginia and Brian Siddall of New York. They conduct research to help families whose loved ones were recorded as missing in action. They came upon records that led them to suspect that John E. Anderson’s remains were in the “Unknown X-91” grave.
Family members and Jon Lindstrand of Kandiyohi took up the trail from there. They began accumulating evidence in hopes of persuading the military to disinter the remains and conduct a genetic test. John E. Anderson’s sister, Esther, mother of Don Franklin and longtime Willmar resident, submitted a sample of her DNA for the process. She is now deceased.
Two requests for disinterment were rejected, but the third filed by Don Franklin in January 2015 was approved. The family had accumulated a lot of evidence by this point, including the official military report from the D-Day invasion on the fate of the transport ship on which Anderson had served at the time of his death. A letter of support from Sen. Klobuchar was also influential in making things happen, he said.
Grave X-91 was disinterred in October. The family received positive confirmation April 17 that the remains were those of their loved one.
Anderson had been serving aboard the troop transport ship LCT-30. It had just discharged troops during the invasion. The machinist mate was alone in the boiler room when a German artillery shell struck, killing him instantly.
His remains were in the bottom of the landing craft, Franklin said. There was confusion. The Army was supposed to take them and bury them. They put them in an unmarked grave, he said.
Knowing what happened does fill a gap, helps provide an answer the family has long sought, Franklin said.
It also allows the family the closure of being able to bring their loved one home, and see to it that he receives the farewell with full military honors he deserves. Anderson had been awarded the Purple Heart posthumously. He had served in the campaigns in North Africa and Italy before joining the D-Day forces.
Franklin said several of Anderson’s surviving nephews and nieces will be in Willmar for the event. Those who remember Anderson were very young at the time of his death, he noted.
“Our memory of him is really of a man in uniform who would come by on his leave and say hello and bring us presents or something,’’ he said.
Come Saturday, those memories will be made complete. There will be eulogies to tell the story of John E. Anderson and his sacrifice, as well as a 21-gun salute and the music of a brass band, all to make it known that he is not forgotten.

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