McLeod County aviator lost in WWII returns home to rest | Local

After missing in action for 78 years, US Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Alan E. Petersen, 23, from Brownton, was laid to rest on October 30 in Glencoe.

Alan’s nephew Sheridan Petersen, 78, described the experience as “breathtaking”.

“It was just amazing,” he said.

Alan Petersen’s story begins in Brownton, where he was born on October 22, 1919. After graduating from Brownton Public Schools, he operated a mink ranch near Brownton. Still passionate about airplanes, he was appointed to the Army Air Force on December 6, 1942, a little less than a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He also married that month to Vivian Newell.

Petersen served in the Middle East Command from January 1943. That summer he was posted to the 345th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 9th Air Force. On August 1, 1943, the B-24 Liberator aircraft on which Petersen was serving as a bomber crashed following enemy anti-aircraft fire during Operation Tidal Wave, the world’s largest bombing mission against oil fields and refineries in Ploiesti, north of Bucharest, Romania.

Of the 177 B-24 Liberator bombers that attacked, 53 did not return. The attack destroyed 42% of the total Romanian refining capacity.

A veteran of 47 bombing missions, Petersen and his Liberator crew sank five Axis ships and downed five Nazi planes over Greece, Italy and Sicily.


Petersen’s remains were not identified after the war. The remains that could not be identified were buried as unknown in the heroes section of the Bolovan Civil and Military Cemetery, Ploiesti, Prahova, Romania.

After the war, the American Graves Registration Command, or AGRC, the organization that searched and recovered fallen American personnel, exhumed all American remains from the Bolovan cemetery for identification. The AGRC could not identify more than 80 unknowns from the Bolovan cemetery, and these remains have been permanently interred in the Ardennes American Cemetery and the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, both in Belgium.

In 2017, the Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA, whose mission is to recover US military personnel listed as prisoners of war or missing in designated past conflicts, began exhuming unknown persons suspected of being associated with missing airmen. losses from Operation Tidal Wave. These remains were sent to the DPAA lab at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, for examination and identification.

To identify Petersen’s remains, DPAA scientists used dental and anthropological analyzes. Additionally, scientists in the Armed Forces Forensic Pathologist system used DNA analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), known as the maternal line, and DNA from the Y chromosome (Y- STR), known as the paternal line.

Sheridan said about two years ago he was initially contacted to identify his uncle’s remains. To do this, he provided a DNA buccal swab for the paternal line, while the nieces on Alan’s mother’s side provided a DNA buccal swab for the maternal line.

In August, Sheridan received a phone call indicating that his uncle’s remains had been identified. From there, a government official came to his home where he signed a “pile” of papers.

After that, Sheridan contacted Glencoe’s funeral home to arrange for her uncle’s funeral, 78 years after his death. He was buried on October 30 in land near his parents’ graves.

“They suggested Arlington National Cemetery or Fort Snelling,” Sheridan said. “Glencoe was chosen because it was the place for him.”

In an interesting twist, Petersen’s remains arrived on October 22 in Minneapolis – the date of his 102nd birthday.

He was buried with a military funeral officiated by an army chaplain with military honors provided by the Brownton Rifle Squad.

“It was a heartwarming experience,” said Sheridan. “It was a happy event. Most funerals are sad, but not this one. It’s a shame his parents and siblings weren’t there.

Sheridan appreciated that the government took care of everything. It reached out to him and he, in turn, extended his hand to those close to him.

“I can’t say enough about the DPAA,” he said. “I can’t give them enough credit.”

While Petersen’s remains have been identified, there are 81,600 servicemen missing from WWII, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War and other conflicts, so the search continues. . Seventy-five percent of the casualties are in the Indo-Pacific, and more than 41,000 of the missing are believed to be lost at sea.

In the meantime, Petersen’s name, which is recorded on the tablets of the missing at the Florence American Cemetery, a site of the United States Commission for Battle Monuments in Impruneta, Italy, will have a rosette placed next to his name to indicate that ‘he was found.

After 78 years, 1st Lieutenant Alan Petersen has returned home.

Comments are closed.