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Willmar Sailor's Remains Return Home After 72 Years

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- This Memorial Day will have extra special meaning for one Minnesota community.

The city of Willmar welcomed home Navy Machinist Mate 1st Class John Anderson -- 72 years after his death.

Anderson died during the D-Day Invasion in Normandy, France. He was in the engine room of a landing craft tank when it was destroyed by enemy fire.

A set of remains were recovered from a boiler room on July 1, 1944, and were eventually interred at the Normandy American Cemetery.

The Army Graves Registration did not have access at the time to the Navy's records, and could not identify the remains as Anderson.

His family spent years trying to locate his remains. They enlisted the help of Jon Lindstrand, a Willmar man who took interest in military history.

"I never set out with the idea that he was going to mean so much to get this done, but it sure has turned into that," Lindstrand said.

Jon Lindstrand At John Anderson's Grave
Jon Lindstrand at John Anderson's grave. (credit: CBS)

It took him four years to piece together every bit of information he could find regarding Anderson's whereabouts during the Normandy invasion. It became clear to him over time that Anderson was indeed the unidentified sailor buried in Normandy.

But requesting the DNA test to prove it was Anderson was challenging. Lindstrand says he and the family were turned down twice when they requested the DNA test.

"There were a couple of times when you just wanted to give up. It just seemed like there was no way to get past the bureaucracy," Lindstrand said.

The family then enlisted the help of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who wrote a letter on the family's behalf requesting to identify the remains.

"We were able to convince the Navy, with the help of the family, to do these tests," Klobuchar said. "And we did the test, and low and behold, it was true. It is John Anderson."

Willmar Residents Welcome Home John Anderson
(credit: CBS)

About 1,000 people lined the street to honor the missing sailor during the procession home. A public memorial Saturday brought out hundreds to honor his life.

"After all this time, to know exactly where he's at and to have him back here at home is just huge," Lindstrand said.

Anderson is now buried near his family at Willmar's Fairview Cemetery.

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