The descendants of a soldier from Saskatchewan who died during the Second World War, and whose remains were never found, are tantalizingly close to getting answers about what happened to him.
The soldier is Lawrence S. Gordon who, in 1916, was born in Eastend, Sask., in the southwest corner of the province.
'[My father] would dearly have loved to have visited his grave. And so it was a commitment I made to my father to effectively do something he wanted to do.' - Lawrence R. Gordon, nephew of missing soldier
His parents were from Illinois and as a young man he spent several years working in the United States.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the U.S. into the war, Lawrence and his brother Bud went to Montana and volunteered for the U.S. Army.
Bud came home, but Lawrence didn't.
Family sought answers
The family, including his nephew Lawrence R. Gordon, a lawyer in Medicine Hat, Alta., has never forgotten him.
"My father never suggested an obligation to me,” Gordon said.
“He would just tell me about my uncle Lawrence and he would dearly have loved to have visited his grave. And so it was a commitment I made to my father to effectively do something he wanted to do."
It was a commitment that would take may years to fulfill.
Death in France
In August 1944, Private First Class Lawrence Gordon and his unit would be engaged in one of the most titanic battles in history, the Battle of the Falaise Gap.
Much of the German army was annihilated, but then, on Aug. 13, less than 10 days before the liberation of Paris, Lawrence's armoured car was hit by a shell from a German tank.
He was presumed dead, but the remains were unaccounted for – a mystery that has persisted for almost 70 years.
And it may have remained a mystery forever were it not for the efforts of a dedicated group of family members assisted by American and French researchers.
Filmmaker made inquiries
What got the ball rolling again was American Jed Henry, a filmmaker and history buff, who was in France when he first heard from researchers there about the Gordon case.
Henry made some inquiries with the assistance of his congressman, which led him to discover long-buried files about the firefight that claimed the life of Lawrence Gordon.
One file referred to the body of an unknown soldier identified only as X-3.
The documents led the family, Henry and researchers to a German cemetery built near Second World War battlefields, at a place called Mont d'Huisnes in Normandy.
Remains discovered in Normandy
There in an above-ground crypt they found X-3's remains, including a skull with teeth that appear to match what family members can recall about Lawrence Gordon's dental work.
The family is now waiting for genetic testing to confirm it is the long-lost Lawrence S. Gordon.
Among those waiting for news is Sam Gordon, another of Lawrence R.'s nephews, who remembers, as a toddler, being picked up by the friendly man in the big cowboy hat.
"I can barely remember him holding me in his arms and he was looking down at me and he was always wearing a black hat,” said Sam Gordon, who is now in his 70s. “I remember that, and that's all I can remember."
But it's not just family members and history buffs who want to know what happened to Gordon.
'When he was going overseas we cried. And he said, 'I'll come back honey, I'll come back.'' - Nancy Elgear, former girlfriend of Lawrence R. Gordon
His former girlfriend Nancy Lacey, now Nancy Elgear, 88 years old and living in a care home in London, Ont., wants to know, too.
“We were pretty fond of each other,” Elgear said. “He used to tell me 'Y'know, 'You're such a cutie ... I love you.' And I told him that, too, and when he was going overseas we cried. And he said, 'I'll come back honey, I'll come back.'”
Since the remains were exhumed,a series of forensic tests have been done at a French crime lab in Marseilles and at the University of Wisconsin.
The Gordon family should have results and, perhaps, a final solution to the mystery of Soldier X-3, by the end of 2013.