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Rushford Welcomes Home Sailor Killed in Pearl Harbor

July 06, 2018 11:34 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- A Rushford sailor killed at Pearl Harbor made his final journey home.

More than 76 years ago, Navy Seaman 1st Class Joseph Johnson reported for duty aboard the USS Oklahoma.  It was December 7, 1941, one of the most infamous days in United States history.  That same day, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. 

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Johnson was a radioman, and one of more than 400 on board the ship who were killed in action.  The military notified his family that he had died, but they were told his body would not be coming home to them.

For years, he was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.  Friday night, Joseph's remains arrived at the Minnesota-St. Paul International Airport.  He was greeted in Rushford with a homecoming fitting for a hero.  First responders and American Legion Riders escorted his remains through the streets lined with people paying their respects to thank the sailor for his sacrifice.

"I remember Joe when he played piano and in the orchestra, in the school orchestra, and he never could read music," said Lucille Burke who knew Johnson and his family. "It's wonderful that they got so many people coming to welcome him back to Rushford."

"For the family, and I know some of the family personally, be really proud of what the man did," said Kevin Barr, a member of the Rushford American Legion Riders. "I'm not going to get political, everybody knows the whole situation as far as wars and conflicts and everything, but nobody wants to see a family member go off to war and get killed."

Joseph had a younger brother and two younger sisters who all died before they could see their brother laid to rest.  Dennis Rislove is now his oldest living direct relative.

While Rislove never knew his uncle, he grew up knowing his story, never realizing that one day he would be the link that gives his family closure.

"They told me the DNA mitochondrial science is identifiable through the female branch, and the fact that my mother was his youngest sister, that's how my DNA became part of the process of identifying him," Rislove said. "76 years and 7 months later  after Pearl Harbor, he is actually coming home."

A tribute will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Rushford Lutheran Church followed by a service at Rushford Lutheran Cemetery.  The community is invited to come and pay their respects.

KAAL-TV

Copyright 2018 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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