Note: This story has been corrected.
The remains of a U.S. World War II soldier, identified by French scientists earlier this year, are to be interred Wednesday on the 70th anniversary of his death.
Army Pfc. Lawrence Gordon was one of two soldiers killed on Aug. 13, 1944, when his M8 armored car was struck by a German anti-tank shell near Carrouges, France. His remains were first interred in an American cemetery as “unknown,” despite the fact that his bloody wallet was sent home to his family and the man killed next to him was identified.
The remains were then reburied seven months later as an unknown in a German cemetery in France because the body was found with German clothing or equipment.
Despite years of research and evidence compiled by an amateur research team that the remains actually belonged to the U.S. soldier, accounting officials at the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command decided against exhuming and testing the remains last year. Instead, Gordon was positively identified Feb. 13 by France’s national crime laboratory with the support of German authorities.
Now, Gordon is being laid to rest next to family members at 1 p.m., the approximate time he was killed. His grave lies on a hillside overlooking a river and the town where he lived before the war.
According to his nephew, Lawrence, from Alberta, Canada, the remains were escorted through five U.S. states and over the border by U.S. law enforcement and the Patriot Guard before arriving in his hometown of Eastend, Saskatchewan, Canada this week.
“It feels pretty darn good,” Lawrence Gordon said Tuesday of the burial. “I am a happy man right now.”
According to the family, however, the U.S. military declined to provide an escort.
Emails from Army officials to Gordon provided to Stars and Stripes said the escort was not approved because the most direct route wasn’t being taken to the burial site. Gordon said they wanted to pass through Casper, Wyo., where the Canadian citizen worked on a ranch until he enlisted less than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Not having an escort “doesn’t really sit well with me,” Gordon said. “My uncle made the ultimate sacrifice... I guess it’s fitting we’ll bring him home on our own.”
The younger Gordon said he has a “bad taste in his mouth” about the case’s handling, but he thanked the American people for their outpouring of support as his uncle’s body made the final journey home.
Officials from the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office have said they are investigating the handling of the case as the agency undergoes a much-publicized reorganization following a series of high-profile scandals involving the nation’s accounting community over the past two years. Army officials referred inquiries to DPMO, which responded to a request seeking comment after the story was published online.
The research team behind the identification of Gordon’s remains began its work in 2011. While producing a documentary film about his grandfather, filmmaker Jed Henry discovered that a single member of Staff Sgt. David Henry’s 199-member Reconnaissance Company never made it home.
He began poring over records with a team of French and American researchers. They built a strong case but that wasn’t enough for Defense accounting officials, who denied a request to exhume the remains and perform a DNA test. However, they were able to convince French and German authorities.
“Thank God he was in a German cemetery,” Henry said Tuesday, still en route to Eastend. “If he was in an American one, there is no chance in hell he’d be home right now getting buried. He’d still be an unknown.”
Before the recent reorganization ordered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, JPAC averaged more $1 million of annual budget per identification. To identify Gordon, Henry’s team spent about $25,000 total, mostly on travel costs.
The private nuclear DNA test that confirmed his identity cost about $1,000, Henry said.