Navy seaman laid to rest in Minnesota after dying at sea during WWII

The family of Earl Halvorson honored the Navy seaman, who disappeared while serving in World War II, with a proper memorial in Minneota on Friday.

At the family’s rural cemetery near Marshall, Friday was a day Earl Halvorson’s loved ones feared might never happen.

"It’s so special. I’ll probably cry some more," Earl’s sister Elaine Johnson said.

92-year-old Elaine Johnson recalls vividly her brother Earl heading off to join the navy just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

He would sign up for submarine duty on board the U.S.S. Grayback during World War II. Elaine never got to give him a proper sendoff. 

"Even when it was reported in 1946 that Earl was presumed dead, our family held out hope that one day he would come home," said Thomas Johnson, Earl’s nephew. "So today, after a lifetime of regret for having stayed in bed. It’s my mother’s turn to say goodbye."

In 1944, the Grayback disappeared in the East China Sea. No one on the homefront, including Elaine and her mother, knew what happened to the crew of 80. For decades, they wondered, worried and feared the worst.

In 2019, they got answers. Divers located the sub in about 1,400 feet of water. A Japanese pilot had dropped a pair of large bombs on the vessel. It was sunk, and there were no survivors.

"Combat builds a bond. Brotherhood cannot be explained," said Sgt. Terry Gniffke, retired Marine. "In the end, they all perished giving their last full measure for God, country, families and each other."

There were no remains to come home, but Earl’s loved ones insisted on giving the young man, who made the ultimate sacrifice at the age of 19, a proper final resting place next to his parents inside the Old Hemnes Norwegian Lutheran Cemetery.

"It was beautiful… and all the people," Elaine said.

Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach and her staff helped get this updated headstone with the proper date of death, February 27, 1944 and reads "In honor of Earl Eugene Halvorson, Purple Heart, USS Grayback, died at sea."

"He was never forgotten, he will never be forgotten," Fischbach said.

After all these years, Elaine was overcome with so many emotions as her late brother received military honors, and she received the stars and stripes amid song, prayer and patriotism.