MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Despite bitterly cold temperatures, a funeral at Fort Snelling National Cemetery was more celebration than sadness.
That’s because the family of Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hannah has waited a lifetime to hear the playing of taps. Hannah was just 27 years old back in 1951 when he disappeared after an intense firefight during the early battles of the Korean War.
Recently, 64-years after Hannah went missing in action, came the word his only surviving son has long been waiting for.
Gordon Hannah Jr. was just 5-years-old when his father kissed him goodbye. It was 1950 and his dad was being sent to fight in the Korean War.
On Wednesday, after a lifetime of waiting, he finally would get the opportunity to say his own goodbye.
“I can remember the day he said goodbye to me and my brother, we were still in bed,” Hannah said.
Now at the age of 70, Hannah’s memories of his dad are painfully clear. Yet the only physical reminders are the faded photographs and war medals.
“He gave me a kiss and took off, and never came back,” Hannah said.
His father was lost in battle on Jan. 28, 1951. He’d die a few months later in a North Korean prisoner of war camp. His remains were never recovered, along with those of 7,800 other U.S. service members.
“I think I was in the bedroom and I heard ma crying,” Hannah said.
But on the day before Thanksgiving 2014, he got a phone call from the Department of Defense. On the other end came the words that his father’s remains had been recovered and positively identified.
“I said, ‘Oh my God,’ and then I started choking up a little bit,” Hannah said.
So on a cold January day, the repatriated remains of Hannah Sr. would receive full military honors. A sharp volley of rifle blasts pierced the still air, followed by the perfectly played bugle sounding out taps.
The flag of a father was never more warmly received than on the frozen Fort Snelling ground. With Gordon and his wife sitting near the casket of his father, an Army chaplain voiced words of comfort.
“He’s remembered as a patriot, a dear husband and son, and a beloved father to his adoring family,” Maj. Buddy Winn told the gathered family.
After a lifetime of sadness, Hannah Jr. finally had his hero back home and close at heart.
“I just kept saying, ‘Dad, you’re finally home, thank God you’re finally home,'” he said.
Back in early 2000, the North Koreans excavated a burial site with the assistance of U.S. military personnel. A number of commingled human remains were recovered and turned over to U.S. forensic scientists.
A military DNA Identification Laboratory in Hawaii recently matched Hannah Sr. to the DNA samples provided by his son and other family members.