A 70-year-old mystery has finally come to an end for the family of an Eastend soldier who died in the Second World War. The remains of an unidentified soldier have been confirmed to be those of Private First Class Lawrence Samuel Gordon.
Born on his family’s farm near Eastend in 1916, Gordon enlisted with the U.S. Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The 28-year-old was presumed dead after the armoured vehicle he was in was hit by a shell in Normandy, France on Aug. 13, 1944 during the Battle of the Falaise Pocket. However, his remains were unaccounted for. The U.S. Army indicated to his family he had been buried at an American cemetery near Saint James, Normandy. But when his nephew and namesake, Lawrence R. Gordon, decided to search for his uncle’s grave in 2000, he discovered his uncle was not buried there at all, but his name was on the wall of the missing. In March 2012, the Medicine Hat lawyer received a call from Jed Henry, an Emmy award-winning Wisconsin cameraman known for his investigative work. Henry’s grandfather was in the same reconnaissance company as Lawrence. He was working on a documentary to honour his grandfather and learned of Lawrence – the only one of 44 soldiers killed in the unit whose body was never recovered. Henry decided to try to find the remains and began working with Lawrence R. to do just that. They were able to obtain files that had been missing for years that contained information on unknown soldiers. The lawyer and cameraman eventually tracked the remains to a German cemetery in Huisnes sur Mer, Normandy. DNA testing began in a French crime lab in September, comparing the DNA of the remains to that of Lawrence’s nephews. The family was given the results last week. Lawrence R. was positive his uncle’s body had been recovered when the teeth from the skull matched a photograph of his uncle smiling, but the DNA results have solidified it. “You can’t describe how good it feels to have the final confirmation,” he said. “It’s tremendous.” Bringing a family member home to be buried isn’t associated with happiness, but the soldier’s family is relieved they will finally be able to properly lay him to rest. How Lawrence’s remains came to be buried in a German cemetery is now becoming clear. When the bodies were recovered from the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, military reports stated there were two burned bodies taken to a temporary cemetery and buried as unknown soldiers identified as X-2 and X-3. They were exhumed a few years later, and fingerprints confirmed X-2 was the gunner who was beside Lawrence in the armoured vehicle. However, because X-3 had no recoverable fingerprints and was buried with German clothing and equipment, he was presumed to be a German soldier and the remains were turned over to the Germans in 1951. Because the U.S. Army was still using winter uniforms in August 1944, American soldiers were taking the light, clean clothing and equipment that they came across. It was a move that left the young Saskatchewan man’s body missing for seven decades, but his surviving relatives are glad the mystery has finally been solved. Working with four countries – Canada, the U.S., Germany and France – made the process a complicated one, but Lawrence R. said it’s been satisfying to see results. “The co-operation of the Germans and the French as well has been absolutely outstanding,” he stated. However, the lawyer is disappointed with the U.S. government’s lack of involvement and assistance. Before receiving the DNA results, he wrote to the U.S. military case manager responsible for the recovery of soldiers killed in the Second World War and asked whether the U.S. accounting community would accept the results. The answer was no. The Central Identification Laboratory would only take the DNA test results into account along with all the other research and information to determine if it was sufficient identification. “We’ve gotten to this point and everyone else in the world is satisfied that we’ve found him except the U.S. accounting community,” Lawrence R. said. “They’re the only ones that won’t accept it.” If the U.S. confirmed him to be found, the soldier could be buried with full military honours at Arlington National Cemetery, but his nephew will not be pursuing this further as he believes the evidence collected should have been adequate. Born six years after his uncle’s death, Lawrence R. never had the opportunity to meet the soldier, but the time he has dedicated to finding answers has given him a glimpse into the life of his late uncle. “We learned the exact route he had taken from the day he had actually landed (overseas),” he said. “It’s just amazing how much we’ve learned.” The next step will be to bring Lawrence back home to be buried at Eastend. His nephew doesn’t believe this process should be too difficult, beginning with Germany signing over the remains to Lawrence R. The remains will be transported to Wisconsin where a forensic anthropologist will conduct an examination, searching for shrapnel and other indications of what happened to Lawrence. The family then intends to give the long-lost soldier a proper burial on Aug. 13 – exactly 70 years after his death.