EMMONS, MINN. – Of all the questions Gary Iverson had about his uncle Glaydon, the first he asked, upon meeting one of his uncle’s old friends and one of the few living people who knew him: Did he have a girlfriend?
The answer was no.
At the funeral of a person who died 75 years ago, every scrap of information about the man was precious.
Glaydon Ignatius Clement Iverson died Dec. 7, 1941, in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 24-year-old fireman 3rd class was aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was hit by multiple torpedoes. The battleship capsized quickly, and Iverson was one of 429 sailors from the Oklahoma to die in the strike.
Iverson’s body was never identified — until last December. Using DNA technology, scientists were able to make a match, and the Navy notified Iverson’s family that he’d be returning home to Freeborn County, in southern Minnesota, for a Memorial Day weekend funeral with full military honors.
Iverson’s remains landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last week. On Saturday, he was laid to rest alongside his parents at Oak Lawn Cemetery in his hometown of Emmons. Iverson would have been 99.
Wearing red, white and blue accents rather than funereal black, a nearly packed house of mourners gathered at Emmons Lutheran Church to honor Iverson. Few had known him personally, and yet to Emmons citizens, veterans and extended family at his funeral, he had been an unforgettable symbol for generations.
The American military is known for “ ‘Don’t leave anybody behind’ — and it’s working,” said Jerry Thompson, commander of the Emmons chapter of the American Legion.
Patriot Guard Riders and other veterans groups lined the paths outside the church and at the cemetery. Members of the U.S. Navy served as pallbearers. In a light rain, alongside a farm where the cattle had red, white and blue stickers stuck on their spots, U.S. Navy Capt. Daniel Pionk gave folded American flags to each of Iverson’s closest living relatives, his brother’s four children.
“It’s a celebration, but the emotions are catching up to us,” said nephew Gary Iverson of Santa Fe, N.M., who wore a tie of swirling stars and stripes.
On Iverson’s gravestone was an engraving depicting the USS Oklahoma.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who serves on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and is running for governor of Minnesota, attended the graveside ceremony. Afterward, he said Iverson’s story serves as a reminder of why resources are needed to continue repatriating the remains of missing soldiers.
“It’s absolutely critical,” he said. “You come here today and you see why it matters.”
‘This brings back so much’
The Iverson family rarely spoke of Glaydon, except each year on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, said niece Linda Helgeson of Lake Mills, Iowa. It wasn’t until years later that the nieces and nephews sought information about Glaydon, and by then it was too late. Their father and grandparents had died.
With Iverson’s story getting this unexpected final chapter, “I’m thinking of Mom and Dad, of our grandparents, and wondering, ‘How would they feel?’ ” said nephew Glaydon Iverson of Lakeville, who was named after the sailor. “That’s where it jolts me.”
By finding old newspaper articles and letters and talking to everyone alive who remembered him, Gary Iverson was able to piece together a sketch of his uncle as an athlete and an avid roller-skater who was great with horses and was a bit of a ladies’ man.
Though only 5 feet 4, “he was a husky kid. Quick as a cat,” said Leo Schmidthuber, 98, who grew up half a mile down the road from the Iversons. Schmidthuber is the one who told Gary that Glaydon was unattached.
Gladys Wogen Biehl, 94, remembered Glaydon as a fun-loving jokester. Her older brother was friends with Iverson. He, too, was at Pearl Harbor, and survived.
“We were the lucky ones,” she said. “This brings back so much more than expected.”