Hawthorn Woods woman, 82, brings brother’s remains home after 63 years
By Frank Abderholden email@example.com | @abderholden October 17, 2013 2:10PM
Hawthorn Woods resident Claire Weber, sister of the fallen Private First Class Norman P. Dufresne, spoke to the media Oc.t 16 after his remains arrived at Logan Airport in Boston. | David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe
There are 7,903 Americans unaccounted for from the Korean War.
Using modern technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously recovered from North and South Korea.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit www.dtic.mil/dpmo or call (703) 699-1127.
Updated: November 19, 2013 6:24AM
The sister of Korean War veteran Norman Dufresne, identified 63 years after he was killed in battle, traveled to Leominster, Mass., from Hawthorn Woods this week to see the last of her 11 siblings given a full military honors homecoming in their East Coast hometown.
“It was overwhelming, oh my goodness you would not believe it,” said Claire Weber, 82, of the uniformed military escort at the Logan International Airport in Boston.
Then the motorcade passed a giant American flag, fire trucks, scores of people waving flags, and veterans, local police and firefighters saluting the vehicles on the way to St. Cecilia Church on Mechanic Street, where a crowd also gathered to honor her brother.
“It was almost like a presidential motorcade,” said Weber, who worried the government shutdown would delay the formal homecoming. “It was totally overwhelming. Ya know, it restores my faith in humankind and our government.
“It brings closure — for 63 years we never knew.”
The remains of her brother, an Army private first class who died 63 years ago, were returned to the family’s hometown from Hawaii on Wednesday, Oct. 16. A wake will be held at Leominster City Hall on Friday and will display his combat medals, including a Purple Heart. Burial is scheduled for Saturday at St. Cecilia’s Cemetery in a family plot.
“We waited so long for him, I wanted him with the rest of the family (at the church cemetery), so that’s where we wanted him. I come back every year,” said Weber, the sole survivor from her family that included parents Joseph and Laura Dufresne, and their 12 children: Irene Guilmette, Germain Guilmette (the sisters married brothers), Francis Dufresne, Margeurite Pepin, Jean Memdrino, Betty Chapel, Yvonne Venturi, and Charles, Norman, Claire, Richard and Leo Dufresne.
“I know my family is up there looking down, happy that he is home,” Weber said. “They’re all gone but me.”
Her brother enlisted in the army when he was 17, just like his older brother, Charles. He later re-upped hoping to go to Germany with his brother, but instead he was sent to Korea.
According to the Department of Defense’s POW/Missing Personnel Office, Dufresne and elements of G Company, 2nd Battalion of 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, were deployed in July 1950, stationed in the hills along the Chinju-Hadong road, just west of the Nam River, deep within South Korea.
In late July the North Koreans launched a massive attack against 2nd Battalion positions and the American forces fell back from Chinju. Dufresne died during the course of this moving battle. He was reported missing in action July 30, 1950.
In August of the following year, the U.S. Army Graves Registration Service recovered the remains of a U.S. serviceman from a battlefield near Chinju, and buried them in the United Nations Cemetery in Tanggok. Then the remains were disinterred and transferred to the U.S. Army’s Central Identification Unit in Kokura, Japan for laboratory analysis.
But in September of 1954, a military review board declared the remains unidentifiable so they were transferred to Hawaii and interred at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl. In 2012, analysts from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command reevaluated Dufresne’s records and determined that, due to the advances in technology, the remains should be exhumed for identification.
“They couldn’t use DNA because when they buried them they used formaldehyde,” said Weber, explaining that scientists used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, such as dental comparison and radiograph comparisons, to confirm it was Norman.
“My mother had sent dental records,” she said. “He was matched on 95 percent (of the criteria).”
From shrapnel and other evidence of his remains, Weber said the military told her they believe he died instantly from an explosion.
Last fall, Weber made it to a Department of Defense conference in Chicago for families of soldiers missing or killed in action. That’s when officials told her they had identified her brother’s remains.
“They explained everything on how they knew the remains were his,” she said. “It was very emotional.”
His bones were wrapped in an army-issued wool blanket and she had choice of a metal or wood casket. She picked wood because her father was a carpenter and Norman had gone to a year of training at the Saxton Trade School before joining the army. Weber attended nursing school at the time and would later work 20 years for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“He was a real boy,” Weber said of her brother, Norman. “I grew up between four boys, that’s what made me tough. He was a typical young man. He dated a lot but never married. He was nice.”
Weber would eventually move to Arlington Heights, Mundelein and then Hawthorn Woods, but she always makes it back to the East Coast to visit her extended family, who have proved a very big help this week. “I am so grateful (to them). It was such an event you wouldn’t believe it.
“We were a very, very, close family,” Weber said. “I feel very blessed and very honored.”