BOULDER, Colo. — A World War II veteran killed decades ago has finally returned home to Boulder.
The homegoing celebration began with a procession on Wednesday, moments after the remains of U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Donald Stoddard arrived at Denver International Airport.
The motorcade was filled with decorated veterans and family who never had the pleasure of meeting him.
"It's still family, so it's really neat,” said Stoddard’s great niece, Shonda Hajoglou.
After 78 years of waiting, loved ones were finally able to give the proper thanks.
"After that much time, you begin to wonder if it would ever happen,” said Don McKeehan, Stoddard’s oldest surviving nephew.
It happened in Boulder, the same place where Sgt. Stoddard enlisted before being deployed in 1941. He lost his life in 1943 on the third day of battle on the Betio Island of Tarawa Atoll.
"Through our DNA testing, that's how they officially identified him,” McKeehan said.
Stoddard’s parents always planned for this day while knowing they wouldn’t live to see it.
"His parents bought this plot for him when they realized he wasn't going to be able to come home,” Hajoglou said.
Now it’s his final resting place. His great-great-nephew, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Brenden Jarvis, is following in his footsteps.
"Thank you for being the example that I'm following to this day," Jarvis said. "And thank you for making the ultimate sacrifice so I can be here today. Thank you."
At a highly awaited burial service, with the releasing of doves and a flyover, many gave thanks to a veteran they never knew.
"I am so glad for your service," McKeehan said. "I am so glad for your sacrifice. And I’m glad you're back with your family. We welcome you, we love you. Rest."
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