I know how these people feel.  I went through the same thing four years ago.  In my family, it was an uncle killed in 1943 over Papua New Guinea.  Their situation extended eight long decades.  Arnold M. Nielsen was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He was serving aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was struck by Japanese planes.  Hundreds of sailors were never identified when their remains were recovered.  Similar to my family’s story, Nielsen for a time was buried in Hawaii’s Punch Bowl.

Then I cried about a man I never met.  Freedom isn’t free.

Finally, there was a DNA match.  He was buried in Lewiston with full military honors.  Yet, none of the people there had any memory of the man.  Some people, I’m sure, came to the cemetery because they felt it was proper to thank a true American hero.

With my family, my Aunt Ruth was the only person at the cemetery with any memories.  She was six-years-old when Uncle “Barney” left for the last time.  In August 1943 the telegram arrived.  Somehow the telegram and a later letter from General “Hap” Arnold ended up in my hands.  I had once contacted Stephen Ambrose about donating the papers and other unit mementos to the World War Two Museum he was creating in New Orleans.  He was happy to put them into the collection but two weeks after his reply, Ambrose died and these precious relics were still in my possession in 2017.  I then donated them to an American Legion back home the week of the burial.

I remember my aunt under the tent at the cemetery (she died not long after the event).  A man in a crisp uniform walked over to her wheelchair and presented her with a flag.  Then I cried about a man I never met.  Freedom isn’t free.

Because of a backlog, it was a 9 year wait for DNA results in my family.

When I returned to Idaho I saw a post on a POW-MIA website and it said we could finally turn out the porch light.  After 80 years, a family with roots in Idaho did the same this past weekend.

 

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