With a motorcade leading the way, the remains of a Saskatchewan soldier who fought with the U.S. army and died in the Second World War was returned to his hometown of Eastend today — exactly 70 years after his death.
In 1944, Pte. 1st Class Lawrence Gordon was mistakenly buried in a German army cemetery in France, but now his remains are to be reburied in the southwestern Saskatchewan town.
For the past four days, his remains have been escorted through five states, accompanied by hundreds of American war veterans, plus police, sheriffs and other well-wishers.
Some 50 motorcycle riders have been part of the procession. In the communities where they've passed, citizens have lined the streets. Some of the participants say they've been overcome with emotion as they travel north to see their Canadian comrade laid to rest.
A final leg of the journey took the convoy to Medicine Hat, Alta., before it arrived in Eastend late Wednesday morning.
A group of U.S. soldiers acted as pallbearers as they carried the casket, draped in the Stars and Stripes, to the Eastend Community Centre for the funeral.
As they entered the hall, a group of Canadian soldiers saluted.
Culmination of a decades-long quest
Like the Gordon family, some wonder why it took authorities so long for this day to happen.
Rick Parks, with the Patriot Guard in Wyoming, is one of the escorts.
"What took the American government so long to say, 'Hey, we're missing a man,'" he said.
Gordon saga began 7 decades ago
Gordon was a Saskatchewan-born farm boy who grew up close to the U.S. border and later worked in Wyoming.
After Pearl Harbor, he signed up to fight with the U.S. army.
In 1944, near Normandy, France, his unit was hit by German tank fire.
Forty-four men were killed, but only 43 bodies were recovered. Gordon was presumed dead, but his body was never found.
Over the decades, his family never stopped seeking the truth about what happened to him. Gordon's nephew, also named Lawrence Gordon, said he promised his father he would visit the grave when he had the time and money.
“No one in the family had ever been to his grave," Gordon said. "When I visited France in 2000, I found out that his name was on the wall of the missing and there wasn't a grave.”
Gordon said he thought he would never find his uncle. Recently, the Gordon family and volunteer researchers used declassified war records to track Gordon down.
After testing samples from the bones against saliva samples given by Gordon's nephews, DNA testing confirmed the truth — he had been mistakenly buried in a German war cemetery in France.
“I feel very satisfied in that regard," Gordon said. "It's a commitment that's a little bigger than the promise I had made to my father, but it didn't matter. It grew as we went and we were just determined that we were going to do everything that we could.”
Thanks to their dedication and some extraordinary detective work, he's finally coming home.
"I said when I walked out of the funeral service that you're a little bit numb," Gordon said. "There's been a whole roller-coaster ride of emotions throughout the course of the day. When we're driving down, you think about the family. You think about Uncle Lawrence's last trip. You think about all of the people who have lost their lives during wars, hundreds of thousands of them. You think about the co-operation taking place between countries on something like this.”
The funeral service started at 1 p.m. CST, with the burial to follow.