Near the conclusion of the long-awaited memorial service for Earl Halvorson on Friday, retired U.S. Navy Lt. Mike Dulas saluted and spoke, "Earl Eugene Halvorson, you are relieved of your watch. You may stand down."
With that, tears streamed down the cheeks of Earl's sister, Elaine Johnson, who did not know her older brother's fate aboard the USS Grayback during World War II until two years ago when the submarine was located in 1,400 feet of water off the coast of Japan.
Over 200 people attended the memorial service on a cold and gusty morning. Among those in attendance were family, friends, military personnel, politicians, television and print media, and others paying respect.
Because of the Grayback's disappearance in 1944, the date on Earl's grave marker issued by the U.S. War Department had listed his official date of death as 1946, which is what was indicated on the grave marker in the Hemnes Lutheran Cemetery.
But when Tim Taylor of Lost 52 Project discovered the sunken submarine two years ago, it was also learned that the Grayback had been bombed by a Japanese aircraft on Feb. 27, 1944, according to Japanese military records.
For the past two years, Johnson and her children have been trying to get a new grave marker with the correct date of death issued. They had to go through a lengthy process with numerous calls and emails due to the military's reluctance to issue more than one grave marker.With the help of the Lyon County Veterans Administration and 7th District Representative Michelle Fischbach, among others, the new marker became a reality, and a proper and accurate memorial service was held this past Friday at Hemnes Lutheran Cemetery.
Earl's body is forever entombed at sea with his 79 crewmates that were aboard the Grayback, but his new military marker now lies in the Hemnes Cemetery beside his parents, Johnnie and Amelia Halvorson, and his grandfather Theodore Halvorson.
"This gives me some closure," said Elaine, wiping her eyes while seated inside a tent canopy that shielded her from the wind. "I think this will be it now. This makes me feel better."
Elaine, 92, was one of five siblings and is the only surviving family member that knew Earl. She was 13 years old when Earl enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941.
"Earl was such a kind man," she recalled. "He always told me how proud he was of me."
Thomas Johnson, Elaine's son and Earl's nephew, played "Taps" on a bugle during the ceremony. He also spoke eloquently about his uncle during the service.
"October 10th would have been Earl's 97th birthday," said Thomas, who has Earl's Purple Heart at his home in Georgia. "So, we all might have been here today, having known Earl at one time or another, celebrating the accomplishments of a long life. Unfortunately, that is not the case and there is only one of us who knew Earl at all ... Elaine Johnson, my mom."
Deb Anderson, Elaine's daughter, who lives with her in Marshall, also spoke during the ceremony, explaining the grueling process she and her mother went through to get the new marker issued. She also thanked all those who helped them along the way.
"Without everyone's help, this would not be possible today," Anderson said. "We can't thank you enough."
Earl was born on a farm outside of Minneota in Nordland Township. When his father died in 1932, his mother and four siblings moved into Minneota. He was confirmed at Hope Lutheran Church and attended public school until the 10th grade.
In 1940, his family moved to Marshall where he attended Marshall High School.
On Dec. 20, 1941, just 13 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Earl enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17.
"On the day Earl left for the Navy, my mom was in bed, and she heard Earl and her mother saying their goodbyes," Thomas Johnson spoke at the memorial service. "My mom, who was 13 at the time, decided not to get up so that they could have the moment to themselves. That was the last time they saw Earl."
Following a call by President Roosevelt for volunteers to enter Submarine Service, Earl answered that call and was transferred to Pearl Harbor. He scored at the top of his class in mine school and was ordered to report to active duty as a torpedoman on the USS Grayback. He served on her 7th, 8th, 9th, and her eternal war patrols.
The 10th patrol would be the Grayback's last. Between 1942 and 1944, the Grayback was credited with 19 enemy vessels sunk, including a submarine and a destroyer.
The Grayback was headed back to Pearl Harbor when it was reported missing. On April 9, Earl's mother received a telegram from the U.S. Navy informing her that "Earl Eugene Halvorson, Seaman First Class USN, is missing following action in the performance of his duty and service to his country".
The U.S. Navy eventually declared all those aboard the Grayback as killed in action, listing the date of death as Jan. 12, 1946, which has been inaccurately engraved on Earl's marker until the new marker was issued and unveiled this past Friday.
"Now we know," Elaine said before repeating more softly, "Now we know."
Thomas Johnson reminded everyone how his mother remained in bed as young girl when Earl went off to war.
"After a lifetime of regret for having stayed in bed on the day Earl left for bootcamp, it's my mother's turn to say goodbye," his voice breaking as he spoke.
Several others spoke at the memorial service, including Fischbach, who along with District Director Ben Anderson and District Outreach Representative Cory Becker, were instrumental is getting the new marker issued.
"I felt it was important to be here for the family," she told the Mascot. "This is an honor to be here honoring Earl. He missed so many Christmases and Easters and other family gatherings. It's a nice way to remember him."
Pastor Lyle Snyder of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Marshall officiated at the service and sprinkled earth on Earl's new marker as a final respect.
Elaine then rang the Honor Bell three times at the conclusion of the service.
She wept again as her daughter Deb clutched her arms.
"She really needed this," Deb said in a whisper.