They stood in near-silence Thursday on the airport tarmac as a flag-draped coffin slowly emerged from the plane.
The remains of Lloyd Timm were finally coming home, nearly 80 years after the 19-year-old from southeastern Minnesota was killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
No one — young or old — gathered on the tarmac at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport had ever met Timm. The young sailor's siblings and parents died decades ago.
But a generation that followed stood together Thursday to pay tribute to the kid from Kellogg, Minn., and escort his remains back to his hometown, a community of about 470 people in the Mississippi River Valley about 50 miles northeast of Rochester.
"He belongs home," said nephew Terry Timm, who made the trek from Kellogg to the Twin Cities with his wife, Betsy.
As the Southwest Airlines plane taxied to the gate, more than a dozen members of Timm's family and some of their friends pulled out cellphone cameras to capture the moment. Seven sailors based in the Twin Cities stood at attention. A funeral home hearse stood nearby.
"To have him here is a great day," said nephew Lloyd Ness, the sailor's namesake.
Under dreary September skies, the sailors stepped in uniform precision to the plane, taking charge of the solemn transfer to the hearse about 50 yards away.
Some observers saluted. Others held their hands over their hearts. A couple of passengers pressed their cameras to the plane's windows.
Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Amy Johnson has helped provide military planeside honors a few times over the last couple of years. "It's an honor and a privilege to help these families get closure," she said.
Lloyd Timm, one of six children, graduated from Kellogg High School in 1940 and enlisted in the Navy the following year.
He had no idea war was about to break out, Ness said. At 19, he probably enlisted because there weren't many economic opportunities in town, his nephew added.
Timm was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was attacked by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941. Multiple torpedoes hit the battleship, which capsized, killing 429 crew members. Timm's brother, Warren, also had been assigned to the ship but had been transferred to Jacksonville, Fla., before the attack.
The remains of 394 crew members couldn't be identified. An effort in 1947 identified only 35 of the unknowns, and the unidentified remains were buried in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
In 2015, after technological and scientific advances, efforts to identify those remains began anew. Families of the fallen swabbed their cheeks in hopes that DNA, along with dental and anthropological analysis, could provide the answers so many longed for.
Lloyd Ness was amazed that identifying his uncle's remains might be possible but couldn't help but be skeptical. Then word came in September 2019 that Lloyd Timm's remains had been identified. "I was even more amazed," Ness said.
Eight other sailors born in Minnesota and three others who listed the state as their home have also been identified.
The remains of one more Minnesotan who was aboard the Oklahoma have yet to be identified, said U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Sean Everette, a spokesman for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
After a yearlong delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Timm family was eager to lay their relative to rest in Kellogg's Greenfield Cemetery, where his parents and other family members are buried. During that wait, the town named a ball field after the young sailor.
On Thursday, the uncertainty of whether Lloyd Timm would ever return to Minnesota grew into bittersweet joy that his remains had finally arrived.
One by one, his family members stepped up to the open hearse that had been moved to a nearby parking lot.
They bowed their heads, whispered "welcome home" and gently touched the wooden casket.
"I told him I wished I had had the opportunity to know him," said nephew Terry Timm as he wiped tears from his eyes.
Kenny Dittrich of Elgin, Minn., a Navy man from the Vietnam era, saluted when he walked up to the casket and walked away with emotions stifling his words. "I was a boiler man like he was," said Dittrich, whose brother-in-law is a nephew of the fallen sailor. "He gave it all."
Dittrich's sister, Marcella Schmidtknecht, came from Arizona to pay her respects. Her mother grew up with Lloyd Timm. "I heard about Lloyd all my life," she said. "He was a character. He liked to have fun, but what 17-year-old doesn't?"
But details about Timm's life are sparse, in part because he was just a kid who was growing into manhood when he died. And because those who knew him are long gone.
A new generation, however, won't forget him.
Thirteen-year-old Aidan Timm stood before the casket to pay his respects to the great-great-uncle who he only began to learn about in 2019.
"It's incredible that DNA helped to bring him home," Aidan said.
"He's part of our family, and he died at 19. My sister is 19, and if I lost her I would be devastated."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788