Sailor’s remains return to Minnesota on Friday

Joe Johnson
By : 
Chad Smith
Tri-County Record

It’s been a long time coming. After almost eight decades, the remains of Navy Seaman Joe Johnson of Rushford will finally return home to Minnesota this Friday, July 7. 

Johnson joined the Navy in 1940 and was among the first Americans killed in World War II during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Thanks to significant advances in DNA testing, Johnson’s recovered remains will land at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport this Friday night at 6:30 p.m.

“The Patriot Guard and the Legion Riders will escort his remains down from the airport,” said Rushford Legion Commander Scuffy Paulson. “That group has already been chosen and there won’t be a need for anyone else there. We will have a staging area at the Rushford exit along I-90 for local people who want to be involved in the escort procession into town. The procession will include the American Legion Riders, as well as emergency services vehicles.

“The staging area will be on the south side of the interstate at 8:30 p.m. for anyone that wants to roll in with the procession,” Paulson added. “The procession isn’t limited to just people on motorcycles, either. Anyone and everyone is welcome to head into town with us.”

Rushford area residents are invited to stand along the escort route on Highway 43, from M&M Lawn & Leisure down to Hoff Funeral Home. Rushford’s Larry Bartelson is one of the people spearheading the effort to get local residents involved. Bartelson said they’ll use social media to update progress on the escort procession to let local people know when they’ll finally get to town. Information and updates can be found on the Facebook pages for the City of Rushford and the Rushford Legion. 

“With no reserved parking, it’s important to plan accordingly,” Bartelson added. “Public safety is important, so please stay a safe distance from the main traffic lanes. Bring a handheld flag and a flashlight, if you have one, in case it gets too dark. We’ll send out updates on social media to let people know where the procession is at and when they should hit town, as that timeline develops. Find a good spot early, get set up, and be safe.”

The procession will be the only event scheduled on Friday night because of the late timing. The funeral service at Rushford Lutheran Church will be Saturday at 1 p.m. The Navy will conduct a burial with full military honors at the Rushford Lutheran Church Cemetery along Highway 30 west of Rushford at 2 p.m. The community is invited to a celebration of Joe Johnson’s life starting at 3 p.m. at Rushford’s  Veterans Memorial.

“We’ll be heading down there for coffee, ice cream, and cookies,” Paulson added. “It’s a good time for reflection on Mr. Johnson’s service. Everyone is welcome to participate. Rushford is pretty damn proud to have one of its own finally returning home. So many of them don’t get the chance to come home at all.”

Bartelson said the repatriation of Joe Johnson is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will likely never be repeated. “The important thing is, he’s coming come,” Bartelson added. “That’s all that matters.”