U.S. soldier killed in Korea is finally homeGOODRIDGE, Minn. — As the hearse bearing Army Cpl. James Norman Sund’s flag-draped coffin pulled up outside Faith Lutheran Church here more than an hour before Tuesday’s funeral was to begin, dozens of people lined the street, waiting. Veterans in their service caps saluted. Mothers covered their hearts and clutched the hands of children, who themselves clutched small American flags.
By: By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
GOODRIDGE, Minn. — As the hearse bearing Army Cpl. James Norman Sund’s flag-draped coffin pulled up outside Faith Lutheran Church here more than an hour before Tuesday’s funeral was to begin, dozens of people lined the street, waiting.
Veterans in their service caps saluted. Mothers covered their hearts and clutched the hands of children, who themselves clutched small American flags.
Hard by the road, 10-year-old Dylan Wold and three buddies from Cub Scout Pack 96 stood in a crisp line and held hand-lettered signs: “Thank you for your service.” “Thank you.” “God Bless America.” “God bless you.”
Dylan watched approvingly as uniformed members of a Minnesota Army National Guard escort ceremoniously removed the coffin from the hearse and slowly carried it into the church.
A man standing nearby asked the boy why he would spend a glorious summer day standing by the road, waiting for a man who died a half-century before he was born.
“It was important,” Dylan said. “It was important to bring him home.”
Sixty years after he died in a prisoner of war camp in Korea, Sund was returned to northwestern Minnesota on Tuesday and embraced by a family, a community and a region that never forgot him.
He was, the Rev. Robert Dahlen said in his eulogy, “a child of this place … a man who has been gone a long time.”
Later, surrounded by four generations of family members, a host of flag-bearing veterans and riders of the Minnesota Patriot Guard, Sund was laid to rest next to his parents in the tiny, tidy Highlanding Cemetery, a few miles outside Goodridge and not far from the family farm where he grew up.
“It’s nice to have him home,” said Lee Ann Lund, of Thief River Falls, who called James her great uncle and said she frequently heard older relatives tell stories about a likeable boy who loved to fish, hunt and farm, who went to war in 1951 and who never came back — until now.
“My mom and my aunt, they always talked about him, wondering what happened,” she said.
Her mother, Gloria Hanestad, also of Thief River Falls, was James’ niece, and she grew up hearing the same stories, the same wondering, from her mother and aunt.
“I was 4 years old when he went to war,” Hanestad said as she waited for the funeral to begin.
“I remember a tall guy with curly reddish hair and a big smile, and how we’d go to the river to fish as a family. My sister thinks I’m remembering photographs, I was so young, but I don’t think so.”
She picked up a funeral program, on its cover a grinning soldier, his curly hair neatly combed.
“That’s it,” she said. “That’s the smile I remember.”
Sund’s father died in 1940, leaving his mother to raise eight children by herself. Five siblings survive, and they all were present at the funeral and burial: sisters Mabel Hayes of Akron, Ohio, Sophie Rambeck of Thief River Falls and Mathilda Sund of Grand Forks, and brothers Martin and Orvin Sund of Thief River Falls.
At the end of the brief ceremony among the tall oaks of Highlanding Cemetery, Sgt. Peter Johnson of the Minnesota National Guard took the U.S. flag that had draped the coffin and presented it to Hayes, 90, Hanestad’s mother.
“She always talked about James, and it’s been an emotional time for her,” Hanestad said. “But she’s doing really well today.
“She wanted to live through this. She wanted to see him home.”
Sund was a member of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division when he was taken prisoner while fighting in southern Korea on Dec. 12, 1951. He died while in captivity about 10 weeks later, according to information provided by the U.S. Army.
His remains were recovered in 1992 and taken to Army facilities in Hawaii, where in recent years great strides have been made using DNA analysis to identify the remains of service members listed as missing or presumed dead.
Sund’s family was notified earlier this year that his remains had been positively identified.
The remains were shipped to Fargo, then to Thief River Falls. Tuesday, a caravan of law enforcement officers, military escorts and Patriot Guards on motorcycles brought Sund the final 20 miles of his journey home, through the transitional farm-woods countryside of corn and soybean fields and thick stands of pine and poplar, country he would have recognized.
“It’s been a long time for him to be coming home,” said Dave Dehaan of Red Lake Falls, Minn., a member of the Minnesota Patriot Guard. “It’s an honor to help make that happen.”
Along the way, the procession passed by the old Sund farmstead, the buildings gone now, the site marked only by a clump of poplars.
Dahlen, the Faith Lutheran minister who officiated at the funeral — and who played a near-flawless “Taps” on bugle at the cemetery — said before the service that Sund’s homecoming was important for the entire region.
“For the veterans community, especially, this is very, very important,” he said.
Dahlen said he visited recently with a Minnesota National Guard chaplain, who had served in combat. “He said, ‘Along the way, you come to realize that you might not make it home. You come to terms with that, but you don’t want to be left in a sand dune or a ditch or by the side of a road in a faraway place.’”
The pastor noted that years ago the Washington Post sent a reporter to Goodridge “because this little wide spot in the road had nine people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan,” reflecting the region’s tradition of military service.
“This has been a time for other families here to talk about their losses,” Dahlen said. “One family lost a son at about the same time James Sund was lost, and another man lost a brother in a plane over Europe during World War II. Another family lost a loved one at sea. They were not recovered.
“It’s pretty tender stuff,” he said. “But we got to bring one of our own home today, even if it took 60 years.”
Chuck Haga is a reporter at
the Grand Forks Herald,
which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.