2017 Veterans Day has new meaning as a POW uncle is returned

It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog. I have been working long hours and traveling to present seminars. Today means a lot to me in a new way so I need to post something. I warn you that this is long but it’s a way of sharing with family unable to be at the events of this week.

Veterans Day 2017 has special sobering and joyful meaning for many relatives and friends. This past week we celebrated the homecoming and burial of an uncle.

My Mom’s only sibling, my Aunt Jeanie, was married 3 June 1950 to Gerald (Jerry) Mueller. His family was from Buckman, Morrison County, Minnesota, but his mother moved to Saint Paul. Shortly after that marriage, the U.S. Army sent Jerry to Korea. He was taken prisoner, at age 20, in February 1951, was tortured, and died there in May of 1951. His remains were there for many decades.

Jeanie never stopped loving this man and her children from her second marriage knew that. In her later years she often asked me if I could find out more about him. There was little online at the time. Fast forward to the 2000s and the Army didn’t share much more publicly. At the Army’s request, his two half-brothers provided DNA samples in order to determine if his remains were among those the Army had received back in 1992.

On August 4th, his still living brother, Greg, contacted me to share the news that Jerry’s remains had been identified. It was not yet public information, but one of my dear colleagues had always been on the lookout for me and saw the public announcement. In October, the Army finally met with the brother, Greg, and the final details were released about Jerry’s return to Minnesota and the funeral.

On Monday, 6 November, Jerry came home to Minnesota. A large group of relatives was on the tarmac at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to meet the plane. We were just a couple of gates from where I had landed from Seattle the night before. My emotions were mixed as we watched the flag-draped casket emerge from the cargo hold on to a conveyor belt. You know the kind if you have watched baggage being loaded and unloaded from planes. A military honor guard was there to greet him and carry him to the hearse. We then drove our cars back to the airport fire station and were able to touch the casket and tell him welcome home.

After that, two of my cousins and I joined many members of the Mueller family for an afternoon of talking, looking a photos, food, and learning more about Jerry and also that some of us had other connections. Many of us remembered visiting Buckman and spending time with Jerry’s grandparents. I remembered those visits because this city girl got to use a pump to get water, ring the bells at St. Michael’s Church, and had to use an outhouse! The pump is now at Jerry’s cousin’s home in the Saint Paul area.

On Wednesday, 8 November, the funeral mass was held at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in St Paul. Jerry and Jeanie were married in the lower level of that church before the full church was built above that. Our family has many ties to Holy Spirit but I hadn’t been in there since my in-laws funerals in the 1990s.

A luncheon was served after the funeral and several photo board were there along with a display of his many medals. I saw pictures of my aunt that I had never seen before, including from her wedding to Jerry. Six of her children from her second marriage were there for the day as they honored their Mom and Jerry. His honor pallbearers were veterans from the Korean War. Graveside services were at Fort Snelling with an honor guard, taps, and lots of tissues in evidence. I can’t express enough gratitude for Greg who let me join with the family, to the airport and airline personnel, to the military representatives, and to the funeral home staff who all treated Jerry and the rest of us so respectfully.

His brother, Greg, thinks that my aunt and his brother met when my aunt was Greg’s babysitter. Greg grew up a half-block from where Jeanie, my Mom, and grandparents lived. I remember visiting at Greg’s house with Jeanie. Those memories are from my grade school years. Greg and I each found pictures of us together as children.

Greg and I reconnected on Facebook after he was talking about the area of Hamline and Randolph on a Saint Paul related page. I figured out who he was and asked him if he was the same guy!

Jerry is home and I like to think that my aunt knows. It’s a good reminder of why we need to honor our military personnel and their families. They go through a lot in order to preserve our freedoms. There is more to our family’s story from 1950 and 1951 but those will come out later.

Repatriated remains are brought to the joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) Laboratory at Hickham AFB in Hawaii. Lastly, I know that several of my professional genealogy colleagues work with the military to identify families of the probable repatriated remains in order to find possible DNA matches. I know they put in extra hours in this honorable work, far more than they get paid for. They deserve our thanks, too. One of them, Debbie Mieszala, has been keeping me updated when she saw news releases about Jerry. Thanks, Debbie.

© 2017, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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5 comments on “2017 Veterans Day has new meaning as a POW uncle is returned

  1. Paula, thank you for posting this. It was a very honorable day to welcome Gerald Mueller back home after all these years of the unknown. I hope you don’t mind that I have forwarded this on to some of our family members and one of my Vietnam bodies.

    I also enjoyed meeting you and your cousins. You guys are special.

  2. Wonderful story Paula! Thanks for posting all the details & feelings. Felt like I was sitting with you. His photo shows a handsome young man.

  3. Amazing, thank you for sharing! These stories need told to honor and remember their hardships. I feel grateful my father got to come home from Korea when he was supposed to.
    Also a big thank you to all the genealogists who help in this work!

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