Growing up, Janet Klug knew her uncle Elmer died in World War II, but her family never talked about it.
“I just think that was really hard on Grandpa and Grandma,” Klug said. “Either they didn’t want to talk about it because they knew he’d never come back, or else they didn’t talk about it because they were wishing he would come back.”
On December 7, 1941, 22-year-old Elmer T. Kerestes was a Navy Fireman First Class stationed aboard the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese planes attacked.
Eight torpedoes struck the ship, and it quickly capsized. A total of 429 sailors and Marines aboard the Oklahoma lost their lives. Only the USS Arizona suffered more casualties.
When the remains of the crewmen were recovered, only 35 could be positively identified. The rest were buried in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
For Kerestes’ family, there was no grave they could visit, no place to put a flag on Memorial Day in his honor.
Then in 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense ordered the remains of the unknown service members from the Oklahoma to be exhumed and analyzed.
Janet Klug got a phone call from the Navy. If her uncle’s remains could be identified, would she want to know?
“Absolutely I would want to know,” Klug said.
Last March, Klug got another call. Using DNA evidence, the Navy had positively identified Kerestes’ remains. She still chokes up when she recounts the call.
“I just have to cry, because I think it’s just wonderful,” she said.
Kerestes’ remains will arrive Saturday in Holdingford, the central Minnesota town where he grew up and graduated from high school in 1938.
A procession will leave from a funeral home in Melrose in the morning and wind through the cities of Freeport, Albany, Avon and finally Holdingford. The city streets will be lined with firefighters, veterans and community members.
He will be buried with full military honors at Highland Cemetery in Holdingford, a city that has never forgotten Kerestes.
A soldiers’ shrine in the city bears four crosses honoring him and three other native sons who died in World War II. The local VFW post bears his name.
Mayor Sue Marstein said Kerestes’ homecoming is an important event for the city.
“These service people that go to the military and everything just give so much,” Marstein said. “It just brings…