It's a mystery that's haunted a Minnesota family for seven decades. Their uncle John Anderson was killed in action during World War II, but his remains were never identified. His family believes they have located the grave where Anderson's remains could be buried but need the permission of the U.S. government to test for DNA, but that is not easy to get.
Photos: John Anderson
Last letter points to D-Day
Don Franklin was just a young boy when he last saw his uncle in Willmar. Franklin has vague memories of the man in a Navy uniform bringing him presents. He still has the letters that arrived almost weekly from overseas. The last one mentioned Anderson was going somewhere he had to keep secret. The location was France where Anderson's LCT-30 landed on D-Day.
During the allied invasion of Normandy, a Nazi explosive hit the ship and Anderson was killed. The Anderson family was told John's body washed out to sea. His parents passed away with the heartache of never being able to give their only son a proper burial.
A startling discovery
Then, a few years ago, a startling revelation from a research team working on finding missing American service members, discovered some old war records. In them, was a 1944 report about "unidentifiable human remains" being found in the boiler room of Anderson's ship. Those remains were placed in the Normandy American Cemetery in France at grave site number 14.
"It was only recently that we thought well maybe there's a chance, you know to recover his remains," said Franklin.
His family desperately wants to know if their uncle's remains are in the grave. They believe DNA testing will give them the answer.They need to get the consent of the government office in charge of identifying unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts. The joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) told the Fox 9 Investigators it needs a "clear and convincing" determination of whom the remains belong to before it can make a final decision on disinterment of a grave.
The department turned down the family's first request to exhume the remains for DNA testing.
Willmar, Minn. resident Jon Lindstrand is a military history buff who has been working closely with the family and submitted the request for the family to JPAC. He has researched and detailed the story of John E Anderson on his web site, http://www.usmhc.org/stories.php. Recently, he discovered additional clues, including a report from the ship's commander, that Anderson was the only person in the engine room when it took a direct hit from a German shell.
A few weeks ago, Lindstrand fired off another request to JPAC to investigate. The family is hoping and praying that their appeal for disinterment will be granted this time.
DNA the answer to bringing them home
Jed Henry is a Wisconsin-based filmmaker who's producing a documentary about his grandfather, a WWII staff sergeant. One member of his grandfather's unit never made it home. Henry found compelling evidence the remains of Private First Class Lawrence Gordon were in a grave marked "unknown" in a German cemetery in France.
JPAC refused to exhume the remains and run a DNA test, but since the grave was in a German cemetery, Henry was able to bypass the Pentagon's red tape.
DNA experts from the University of Wisconsin and a French crime lab confirmed the remains did indeed belong to PFC Gordon. Henry recorded that solemn return home, some seven decades in the making. An entourage of men and women in uniform was waiting when the plane arrived in Chicago last June.
The same DNA expert who helped to identified PFC Gordon is willing to help John Anderson's relatives find the truth.
"In my mind, this is one of those no-brainers," said Josh Hyman, DNA expert at UW-Madison. Military records indicate the remains in grave 14 contain enough bone to do a DNA analysis."