Sask. soldier MIA for 70 years on his way home for burial
Military ceremony in France starts Private Lawrence S. Gordon's journey back to Canada
An elaborate military ceremony in France on Tuesday marks the beginning of Private First Class Lawrence S. Gordon's journey back to Canada for a proper burial.
For 70 years, PFC Gordon was officially listed as missing in action and presumed dead. It took persistent sleuthing by his family and volunteer researchers to reveal that Gordon had been mistakenly buried in a German war grave.
It's been a very emotional day.- Lawrence R. Gordon, nephew of missing soldier
"It's been a very emotional day," said Lawrence R. Gordon, the soldier's nephew and namesake, from the Mont-de-Huisnes German War Cemetery in France. "It's taken the co-operation of four countries to achieve this."
Military officials from the American, German, and French armies, under watch of a representative from the Canadian Department of National Defence, gathered at the cemetery to transfer the remains of PFC Gordon. They were removed from the German ossuary and placed in a casket draped with an American flag, then escorted to the Charles de Gaulle Airport for a flight back to North America.
The most poignant moment for Lawrence R. was listening to a bugle play "Taps", a traditional military funeral song, as his uncle's remains were loaded into the casket.
In the early 1940s, the young man from Eastend, Sask. was working as a ranch hand in the United States and decided to enlist with the American Army after Pearl Harbor. His reconnaissance division was hit by German tank fire in a battle north of Normandy, France in 1944. Gordon's name was listed on the "Wall of Missing" at Brittany American Cemetery in St. James, France.
However, his family was troubled by a mystery. Gordon was one of 44 casualties that day and the other 43 were all accounted for. So, where was PFC Lawrence S. Gordon?
Gordon's nephew. Lawrence R., a lawyer in Medicine Hat, worked with a team of amateur researchers to access military records of unidentified soldiers, known as "X-Files".
Jed Henry, a filmmaker from Wisconsin whose grandfather served in the same military unit as Gordon was one of those researchers.
"There's a soft spot for soldiers who are unknown or never identified, and so it just kind of bothered me," Henry told CBC news in 2013. "I just wanted to look into it and see if there's a chance if we could find him."
Using bone charts, they deduced that Gordon had been mistakenly buried in a German vault as unknown soldier "x-3".
Lawrence R. believes the mix-up took place because scraps of a German uniform were found with the remains. He's expressed discomfort at the possibility that his uncle was buried with the Nazi soldiers who may have killed him.
"You can't help but wonder when he's among 12,000 other deceased German soldiers, whether he may be lying next to the one who killed him. You don't know," Gordon said.
After struggling for years to get information and military documents from the U.S. Army, the family was impressed by the level of co-operation from the German and French military.
In September, 2013, the German War Graves Commission agreed to disinter the burial cask and French officials confirmed Gordon's identify with DNA testing conducted at France's national crime lab.
On Monday, the U.S. Army placed a rosette next to Gordon's name on the Wall of Missing to symbolize that the U.S. government and Department of Defense no longer consider him 'missing'.
Then, on Tuesday, Gordon's remains were formally transferred to his family.
Lawrence R. plans to bury his uncle's remains with other family members in Gordon's hometown of Eastend in August, on the 70th anniversary of his death.
"It will certainly provide closure for us. It's the final chapter."