Investigators: Home at last

- After seven decades the remains of two U.S. service members, who died while serving in World War II, were returned and buried in Minnesota on Memorial Day weekend.

THE SOLDIER COMES HOME

Seven decades of waiting has ended for Paul Sersha who is going to be 98 years old.  The last time he saw his kid brother John, was 1943.

John was leaving their home on Minnesota's Iron Range for the U.S. Army.

"He looked at us and said, 'I'll never see you again,'” remembered Paul’s wife, Julie. His words were prophetic.

Private Sersha's first and only combat mission sent him behind enemy lines in Holland.  It would take nearly a month for the family to get any news. The telegram read “reported missing in action.”

For 73 years, a small box of John's belongings, including a purple heart and some letters he wrote, is all the family had to remember him by.
              
"I was 11 months old when he died, yet there is a bond," said Dick Lohry, who grew up curious about the uncle he never knew.

Eleven years ago he started doing research to see if there was a way to find John's remains. 

A breakthrough came in 2013 when he got a surprise phone call from a complete stranger in Germany. Army Sergeant Danny Keay searches for World War II MIA's in his spare time.

"The height, the size, the location of the loss, they were a match, " Keay told the Fox 9 Investigators.

Keay discovered records indicating John was perhaps buried in a grave marked "unknown" at a cemetery in Belgium.

The Pentagon was slow to act at first. But a story by the Fox 9 Investigators and pressure from Congressman Rick Nolan got things moving.

In December, the grave was exhumed and the remains were brought to a military forensics lab in Nebraska for DNA testing.

"Thank God for DNA," said nephew Jim Sersha.  The family's prayers were answered.
 
"Eleven years to bring him home," Jim said as he wiped away a tear.

On Tuesday, four generations of Sershas were on hand at Twin Cities International to greet a plane from Omaha which transported a flag-draped coffin with John’s remains inside.
     
At long last, Paul’s kid brother, the best man at his wedding, his hunting and fishing buddy is no longer unaccounted for.

"It’s almost overwhelming. God is good, he is great. He's done just a wonderful thing for our family."

For a few minutes, a busy airport paused to honor a 20-year old kid from Eveleth who left the comfort of his home and family to fight an evil in a distant land so very long ago.

"He's home, dad. He's on Minnesota soil," said Jim.

"Yeah, 73 years to have this. At least he's home now,” replied his father, Paul.

John was buried on Saturday with full military honors in Eveleth, Minnesota.

THE SAILOR COMES HOME

Forty eight hours later another flag-draped casket arrived at Twin Cities International.

This one was headed for Willmar, the home of a Minnesota sailor, missing since the massive D-Day invasion of 1944.

 "This can't be possible,” Don Franklin said of his uncle. "He's been gone for over half a century."

Franklin has faded memories of when John Anderson went off to war, but vividly recalls the day the telegram came.

Anderson was killed in action at Omaha Beach.  He was in the engine room of this ship, when it was hit by a German shell.  For the next 72 years, the family believed his body had washed out to sea.

Then nine years ago, out of the blue, Franklin was contacted by MIA researchers who said there was strong evidence that Anderson's remains were buried in an American cemetery at Normandy.

There was no name on the grave marker just the inscription "a comrade in arms known but to God."

With the help of John Lindstrand, a military history buff from Willmar, Franklin gathered more old war records indicating they were on the right trail.
          
But twice the Pentagon rejected the family's requests to exhume the remains for DNA testing.

When the Fox 9 Investigators profiled the case last year, it got the attention of Senator Amy Klobuchar.

"I have to be honest, we didn't know what would happen with this, but thought it was worth it to make the try," said Klobuchar.

After the Senator weighed in, the Department of Defense did an about face.

The grave in Normandy was disinterred and DNA testing confirmed the remains as Anderson.

Willmar welcomed their native son back home on Saturday to the very auditorium he played in as a teenager more than 70 years ago. The service included full military honors and he was buried next to his parents.

Most of the people who turned out to honor John Anderson were too young to ever know the man.  But that's what Memorial Day is supposed to be all about, to remember the service and the sacrifice and pass that memory to the next generation.

"You want to clasp it to your breast as a sign of remembrance,” Franklin said as he held a folded American flag in his hands.

Memorial Day 2016, is the year when two members of Minnesota's greatest generation came home at last.

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