Hundreds commemorate service of WWII veteran

TCR/CRAIG JOHNSON After a full military service, Rushford’s Joe Johnson was laid to rest last weekend in the Rushford Lutheran Cemetery. Johnson was among the first American casualties at Pearl Harbor.
By : 
Scott Bestul
Tri-County Record

Joseph Johnson returned home like the hero he was last weekend. Johnson, the Rushford native who enlisted in the Navy after high school and was among the first American casualties at Pearl Harbor, was finally laid to rest among the scenic hills surrounding his hometown.

Thanks to the efforts of the newly created Defense POW/MIA agency, Johnson’s remains, which had been interred in a grave containing dozens of sailors in Hawaii, were recently identified through DNA testing.

In a funeral procession that started at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Friday and ended in a burial with full military honors Saturday, Johnson’s service was honored by hundreds of Minnesotans. “We were there when the airplane landed Friday, and the entire airport was shut down for that one plane,” said Patty Ebner, whose family is related to Johnson through marriage. “I looked back up at the terminal, and there were people pressed up against the glass, looking down at the plane. Two big fire trucks were on each side of the plane, shooting streams of water that made a rainbow arc for the plane to taxi through. It was such an amazing and emotional sight. My husband and I just looked at each other and started crying.”

After a military service, Johnson’s casket was transported to a Hoff Funeral Home hearse, which proceeded south toward Rushford. The accompanying caravan consisted of the Legion Riders, Rushford law enforcement, and police and sheriff’s departments from cities along the route. The caravan only grew in size at the Rushford exit off of I-90, where city fire trucks, ambulance and dozens of riders gathered and joined to escort the hearse as it entered town, proceeded through city streets, and ended at Hoff Funeral Home.

Johnson’s funeral the next day was at Rushford Lutheran Church, where the pews filled with residents, area veterans, and a large contingent of the U.S. Navy. Patricia Farinacci, whose mother was Johnson’s sister, addressed mourners and identified the funeral as bittersweet. “Our family always hoped that his body would be identified,” she said. “I just wish they were here for this.”

Pastor Luther Mathsen delivered a stirring sermon that reminded everyone of the meaning of Johnson’s sacrifice. “It was Thomas Jefferson who said that ‘The tree of liberty must constantly be refreshed by the blood of patriots and tyrants,’” Mathsen said. “Which is simply to say, ‘Freedom does not come free.’ None of us want that to be true, yet it was in Joseph’s day….and none of us can deny that it has been and is true today.

“And on the foundation of his sacrifice, and that of so many others, is the freedom we enjoy and in which we may flourish. Freedom worthy of this nation. [Joseph] gave his life in its cause …. So today, at long last, we recognize his sacrifice….and we mark his homecoming.”

Johnson’s casket was transported to the Rushford Lutheran Cemetery, where the young sailor was honored with a full military funeral. Norm Ebner, a 99-year old WWII veteran and Johnson’s brother-in-law, received the folded flag that had, only moments before, decorated Johnson’s casket. And finally, after nearly 80 years in Hawaii, Joseph M. Johnson is once again home, resting next to his parents.