The life of Glaydon Iverson: From Emmons to Pearl Harbor to his journey home

by Chris Yu, Multimedia Journalist

EMMONS, Minn. (KTTC) — Although he grew up in a small town, he said he was “prepared to do the world’s work.”

This is the story of a Freeborn County veteran who lost his life during World War II, but was able to return home more than 75 years later — thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Navy and his relatives.

EARLY YEARS

Glaydon Ignatius Clement Iverson was born on Oct. 31, 1917. He grew up in Emmons with his father, Edwin, his mother, Anna, and his younger brother, Franklin.

“He was a very likable person,” said Glaydon’s nephew, Gary Iverson. “Good-looking, good at athletics. He played baseball in the summer, which a lot of kids around here did during that time, basketball in the winter. He worked with his dad in the dray business and they had a couple teams of horses for that. So he was good with horses. And he was a good roller-skater. He used to, apparently, go out and pick up kids from the surrounding communities and help them come in to go rollerskating. Everybody liked him is what I heard.”

Glaydon graduated high school in 1936 as a top student.

“He mentioned in the end of the speech that ‘we are prepared to do the world’s work.’ And you can take that however. But he was willing to die for the country,” said Gary Helgeson, husband to Glaydon’s niece, Linda Helgeson.

SERVICE IN THE NAVY

On Feb.14, 1941, Glaydon enlisted in the U.S. Navy, according to his obituary. He was first stationed at the U.S. Naval School in Dearborn, Mich. After finishing his course of study, Glaydon spent several days on furlough with his family and friends in the Emmons area.

On Sept. 11, 1941, Glaydon began serving aboard the USS Oklahoma. He worked in the battleship’s fire room, and described what it was like in a letter to his cousin.

The fire rooms have been as hot as 140 degrees since I came out. It’s also noisier than 1,000 kids all crying at the same time.

Glaydon also wrote about how much he missed southeast Minnesota.

I’d like to get back home for a while… Tell all the pretty girls in Austin that I love them. And you too! Lots of luck!

ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR

Unfortunately, Glaydon never got to see his family and friends again. Because on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor. The USS Oklahoma quickly capsized after suffering multiple torpedo hits, killing 429 crew members, including Glaydon. He was just 24 years old.

“To think that over 400 men perished in that ship alone is crazy,” said Gary Helgeson.

With the exception of the USS Arizona, no ship at Pearl Harbor had as many deaths, according to the military.

The U.S. Government sent the following telegram to Glaydon’s family on Feb. 14, 1942:

After an exhaustive search, it has been found impossible to locate your son, Glaydon Ignatius Clement Iverson, Fireman Third Class, US Navy, and he has therefore been officially declared to have lost his life in the service of his country as of December 7, 1941. The Department expresses to you its sincere sympathy.

Glaydon received a posthumous Purple Heart , which was sent to his mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FOR DECADES

From December 1941 to June 1944, the Navy recovered the remains of the fallen USS Oklahoma crew. They were then interred in the Halawa and Nuuanu cemeteries in Honolulu.

In September 1947, the remains were disinterred for analysis. But laboratory staff could only identify the remains of 35 men. The unidentified remains, including Glaydon’s, were buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, otherwise known as The Punchbowl.

Two years later, the military classified the unidentified crew members as “non-recoverable.”

IDENTIFIED AT LAST

In November 2011, a woman working with the Navy contacted Gary Iverson (Glaydon’s nephew) as part of an effort to find relatives of the USS Oklahoma crew. Gary helped obtain mitochondrial DNA samples from two relatives on Glaydon’s mother’s side of the family.

In April 2015, the deputy secretary of defense ordered the disinterment of the unidentified crew members. Using the aforementioned DNA samples, combined with the examination of dental records, scientists with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency were able to identify Glaydon’s remains in late 2016.

A petty officer called Gary on Dec. 22 to share the news. In March, Gary met with Navy officials in person for official details.

“Wow… Holy smokes. This is so so awesome. I didn’t believe it,” said Glaydon’s niece, Linda Helgeson, of her reaction upon learning her uncle’s remains were finally identified.

WELCOME HOME

On May 25, the flight carrying Glaydon’s remains landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

“Seeing the casket come out, you know, there are a lot of different times where the emotions hit you and you’re not prepared. That would be one of them,” said Gary Iverson.

After a brief ceremony on the tarmac, relatives and Patriot Guard Riders escorted Glaydon’s casket to Mittelstadt Funeral Home in Lake Mills, Iowa, not far from Glaydon’s hometown of Emmons.

Along the 100-plus-mile route, Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag joined the procession near Ellendale. When they reached the American Legion in Albert Lea, there was a presentation of arms.

“I just hope that he appreciates the support that everyone’s given him,” said Gary Iverson.

On Saturday, May 27, a funeral service for Glaydon was held at Emmons Lutheran Church.

“We’re honoring a sailor who was killed in action and given up for loss  75 years ago. But we’ve not forgotten,” said Navy Cmdr. Brian Danielson at the podium. “It reinforces our country’s values that we place on a human life.”

After the service, Glaydon’s casket was brought to its final resting place at Oak Lawn Cemetery in Emmons.

“It’ll be nice to put him to rest next to his parents and we all really think that’s the right thing to do,” said Gary Iverson. “We’re just pleased that we can put this chapter in his life to rest in an almost celebratory way with a few emotions thrown in.”

Now that Glaydon’s home, even the youngest generation of his family learned about his sacrifice.

“He served for us and for all of, like everyone,” said Morgan Pruin, granddaughter of Linda. “It’s just like, I don’t know, like overwhelming because it’s so cool and such a great — it’s such a big part of American history.”

As for Glaydon’s nieces and nephews, there’s now a sense of closure knowing he’s at peace.

“We’ll probably come and visit him every year for sure on Memorial Day,” said Linda.

Glaydon was the first service member from Freeborn County killed during World War II. His younger brother, Franklin, also served during the war, and was wounded.

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