Army Staff Sgt. Gerald “Jerry” Jacobsen is finally home in Minnesota, 73 years after he went missing during a World War II battle in France.

And the woman who waited for him, with those decades now etched into her face, found solace Friday. She cradled the folded American flag in her lap, gazing straight ahead at the coffin that contained her husband’s remains, long buried in a French cemetery under a cross that bore no name. The love of her life will now rest in Section 31 on the southern edge of Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

“This is such a lift to my heart,” said Jacobsen’s 94-year-old widow, Catherine Tauer. “It’s wonderful to have him home.”

On Friday, Jacobsen received the military funeral honors he long deserved and that Tauer needed.

A six-man honor guard, its unison steps measured and precise, carried the flag-covered coffin from the hearse to the assembly shelter, where Tauer, family, friends and a few strangers looked on, absorbing the solemn ceremony. Grabbing the flag’s edges, the honor guard popped the flag from the casket, holding it taut during the crack of a three-volley salute and the mournful sound of a bugler playing taps.

Tauer held her gaze strong. Others in the crowd dabbed their eyes.

Slowly and precisely, the flag was folded and tucked tightly into a triangle. A soldier, bent on one knee, looked into Tauer’s eyes and quietly told her that on behalf of a “grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Another flag was given to Jacobsen’s sister, Jacqualyn LaBathe, 86, and his nephew, Brad Jacobsen.

Missing man formation

Overhead, four World War II planes flew in the missing man formation — one plane peeling off as the remaining three flew on.

“This is what she’s waited for for so long,” said Brad Jacobsen, who helped push to find and bring his uncle’s remains back to Minnesota.

Jerry Jacobsen went missing on July 15, 1944, was declared dead a year later and was counted among more than 82,500 U.S. soldiers missing in action since World War II.

Tauer, who remarried a decade later, held out hope he would be found. She and family members called and wrote to government officials and politicians, pushing for answers to no avail.

Then an Illinois woman solved the mystery. Roberta Russo, an amateur historian, was poring over once-classified documents about an unknown U.S. soldier buried in France and took note that the sparse identifying information in the files of the soldier buried as X-481 included the last four numbers of a soldier’s serial number printed on his underwear. She matched those numbers to Jacobsen’s records. DNA results confirmed his identity in June and his body was returned to Minnesota this week.

“It’s been unbelievable,” said Serena Garceau, Tauer’s niece, who helped her search for her husband. “She’s so happy. It’s like she gained 20 years back of her life.”

For Tauer, her love for the 27-year-old husband she lost to war is frozen in time. For more than 70 years, she’s looked at the photo of the man she married in 1943 and wondered where he was. Now he’s home, and she’ll go to the cemetery often.

“I have so much to tell him,” she said. “I’ll tell him how lonesome I’ve been. … I’ll tell him I love him.”