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August 12, 2014 10:10 PM

The 70-Year Road Home

Sioux Falls, SD

More than 73,000 World War II soldiers are still missing, according to the Department of Defense Prisoner of War office. Yet, one family we spoke with has finally been able to bring their solider home after he was buried overseas for almost 70 years.

Private First Class Lawrence Gordon was killed in Normandy, France a few months after D-Day. His family was told the 28-year-old man had died, but they didn't know where his body was. It took a stranger to change that decades later.

For 70 years, Lawrence Gordon's family could only tell stories about the former sheep rancher who enlisted in the U.S. Army after the Pearl Harbor bombings.

14 years ago, his nephew, who was named after Gordon, asked the United States Government for the location of his uncle's body. He was told that the solider was buried at the Brittany American Cemetery in France. The younger Gordon visited the cemetery, and found his uncle wasn't buried there. In fact, he was on the wall of missing soldiers.

"I thought that I was never going to find him. I had no inkling as to how you would go about trying to find someone who was missing in action," Lawrence Gordon.

Jed Henry was that answer. Henry was doing research on his own grandfather, who served in the same unit as Gordon. He found out the clues to the missing solider and contacted the family.

"He seems to mirror his uncle and it seems strange being named after him that he's almost the mirror image of him and so I think it's sort of fate that it's worked out this way," Jed Henry said.

The two men hit it off and vowed to find Gordon's body and bring him home. That process wasn't easy. They had difficulty getting answers from the national office which tracks POW and MIA soldiers.

"I think most of us, me particularly, felt like I would be able to just go to the government and say, 'Hey, we found some records, maybe you missed something here, maybe you should have a second look.' Unfortunately, it was pretty naive to think that things could be that easy," Henry said.

Instead the two relied on a handful of volunteer researchers and forensic scientists, spending $25,000 in their search. The research lead to a second cemetery in France, shared by both the French and German governments. When Gordon and Henry contacted the governments, they got answers they sought.

"The attitude of the Germans was absolutely 180 degrees the opposite of the US attitude and they're been exceedingly helpful all the way through," Gordon said.

A French crime lab did a DNA test on Gordon's potential remains last September year. On Valentine's Day, the tests came back positive.

"It's rare in your life that you get to be part of something that's bigger than yourself," Henry said.

Gordon's family is now bringing him back. Only instead of a direct flight, Gordon is taking the long road home, from Wisconsin back to Canada.

It was part victory tour.

"We were finishing off something that's taken years and so there's a great feeling of satisfaction and happiness about it," Gordon said.

And part raising awareness about what they say is a flawed system.

"A sad state of affairs when four or five amateurs can go out and with very little money deal with four different countries and accomplish something you're told is impossible by the people in the U.S. system," Gordon said.

When they stopped in Sioux Falls, the soldier's remains stayed here at Miller Funeral Home. Gordon the second says the people were gracious hosts.

"Jed phoned them and said we need a place to leave the remains. You can't leave them locked up in a vehicle sitting in a parking lot overnight. They've just been incredibly helpful," Gordon said.

Gordon's remains left Sioux Falls under an escort of South Dakota Patriot Guard Riders, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, and the Minnehaha County Sheriff's Department.

The road that took nearly 70 years to complete is now almost over. The friends and family of the solider who paid the ultimate sacrifice can now look back at what they achieved with pride.

"I have friends now from France, and from Canada, all because of this experience," Henry said.

"Can't express properly in words how thankful I am to the American people, and as individuals they are absolutely incredibly generous, kind, willing to help at every turn, willing to do anything to accomplish a mission like this," Gordon said.

Gordon's trip ended in his hometown of East End, Saskatchewan yesterday. The plan is for him to be buried tomorrow, which is exactly 70 years after he was killed in battle.

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