RED WING -- Veterans and their families from surrounding communities packed the Red Wing High School gymnasium Nov. 8 for the annual Veterans Day ceremony.
Members from Minnesota State College Southeast and the Hiawatha Valley Family Beyond the Yellow Ribbon were in attendance for the hour ceremony, as well as students and community members. The Red Wing Civil Air Patrol presented the colors, with the high school Ovation choir singing the national anthem.
Veterans from every branch of the military were honored, with two veterans from World War II receiving standing ovations.
This year the ceremony had two special guest speakers, Minnesota National Guard veteran Lance Garrick and his wife, Renee, who presented information on the early life of Korean War Cpl. Gudmund “Sunny” Johnson Jr. and the subsequent journey in identifying and repatriating his remains to Red Wing.
Born on May 3, 1929, the Red wing native at age 17 joined the U.S. Army, and in 1950 deployed to Korea. That November, the Chinese Army led one of its first major offensives.
“They smashed right through the 8th Army line near the 25th Infantry Division,” Renee said.
“According to the 35th regimental log files, during the early morning hours of Nov. 27, there was a heavy attack on K Company, Sunny’s guy’s,” Lance added. “In fact, there was even a report of a fist fight with the enemy. True hand-to-hand combat.”
The 3rd Battalion was unable to retreat from the battle. Due to the complicated situation, he wasn’t reported missing until two days later, according to Lance.
Johnson and 22 others were held temporarily in Sinuiju, North Korea, on the Chinese border. Johnson was then moved to Camp No. 5 in Pyoktong, which is 60 miles north of Sinuiju. He died there July 31, 1951.
On July 22, 1954, the United Nations and North Korea held a casualty exchange as part of Operation Glory where the United States received 4,167 sets of remains of soldiers and Marines.
“Over 416 Americans unknown from the Korean War were put to rest in the National Cemetery of the Pacific,” Lance said. “The Johnson family still waited for identification.”
It wasn’t until the advent of DNA testing in the 1990s that provided Johnson’s family with some hope. His sister Lucy, along with his nephew Daniel Hutchson and Diana Hutchson-Duncan provided DNA samples with the hope of identifying Johnson’s remains.
The mystery began to unravel when a request was made in June 2017 by another family to disinter a set of remains. Those remains were found not to match the DNA of that family, but five others who hadn’t been accounted for were also possible matches, including "Sunny."
“The Johnson family had already submitted the DNA and that was the key, but it took two more years,” Renee said.
On Aug. 27, 2019, a match was made. Cpl. Gudmund C. Johnson Jr. was coming home.
“His niece Diana Duncan seemed surprised by all the fuss, ‘Why would so many people be interested in her uncle Sunny? Why would this be such a big deal?” Renee said. “We care because it matters. We care because he’s not just your uncle. He belongs to all of us.”
Johnson will be interred in a private ceremony at St. John’s Cemetery on Saturday, Nov. 9.
A social gathering was held after the Veterans Day ceremony concluded where Lt. Col. Richard Johnson conducted a sabre cutting of a cake.