PFC Gordon's Story
On January 24, 1942 Lawrence Samuel Gordon from Eastend, Saskatchewan, Canada became Private Gordon in the United States Army. After basic training he was assigned to the Reconnaissance Company, 32nd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division on April 13, 1942. He trained in the United States and England from 1942-1944 until he was sent to France to help defeat the Nazis. After landing on Omaha Beach on June 23, 1944 (D+17) he fought his way through Normandy and its terrible hedgerows. On August 13, 1944 PFC Gordon was killed during the battle of the Falaise Gap when his M-8 Armored Car was hit by a German 88mm shell. PFC Gordonʼs remains would be taken to an American Cemetery and buried two days later. Seven months later graves registration crews reprocessed those remains and concluded they were a German soldier. Thus PFC Gordonʼs name remained on the Wall of Missing for almost 70 years until June of 2014.
The amazing story of finding PFC Lawrence S. Gordon is a story that unfortunately took 70-years to complete, but thankfully for the nephew who bears his name (Lawrence R. Gordon), the passage of time did not diminish his willingness and his conviction to honor the commitment he made to his father to visit his uncleʼs grave as a young boy. What also makes this such a great story is that four average citizens, in their spare time, convinced four countries (Canada, US, France, and Germany) that cooperation and respect for a fallen soldier should and can circumvent any politics, bureaucracy, and/or any language barrier. What is sad about this story is that out of all four of these countries the United States is and was the worst to deal with.
PFC Lawrence S. Gordon undated photo
In less than 30-months four amateurs, known as the Gordon volunteer research team, with the cooperation of the Gordon family, and with almost no help whatsoever from the US Accounting Community, were able to do everything it took to Identify PFC Gordon including: genealogy, family outreach, historical research, diplomacy, DNA testing, anthropology, odontology, obtaining a death certificate, and repatriation. PFC Gordon, a Canadian citizen who served in the US Army, was mistakenly buried in a German cemetery in France almost seven decades ago. Thanks to public/private partnerships and third party researchers, on August 13, 2014 his remains were laid to rest one final time in his hometown of Eastend, Saskatchewan, Canada, fulfilling his motherʼs lifelong wish that the remains of her son would one day be returned home. All of the costs of the project were paid for exclusively by the Gordon family and the volunteer research team.
Following the release of three separate mtDNA tests and one nuclear DNA test done by independent labs outside of the Accounting Community, on May 27, 2014 the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) found sufficient proof to remove PFC Gordon from the unaccounted for list. This identification was based on the circumstantial evidence provided by the Gordon volunteer research team who were told months earlier they didnʼt have sufficient evidence to warrant a DNA test. The DNA testing was preformed by laboratories outside of the accounting community because the accounting community declined to assist as this case did not meet their level of scientific certainty. At no time during this process did anyone at JPAC see these remains despite being given numerous opportunities, and no anthropological or odontological examination was done prior to identification. With the use of a nuclear DNA testing approach, the results showed a 99.995% match with PFC Gordonʼs nephews. An official within the US Government's accounting community later confirmed that the PFC Gordon case was the only time in the history of the Department of Defense that a US soldier had been identified without them performing any of the testing or analysis.
Documentary about PFC Lawrence S. Gordon
PFC Lawrence S. Gordon was born on June 26, 1916 in Eastend, Saskatchewan, Canada to American parents Sam and Ella Gordon. He had three brothers and one sister and was raised in a small farming community. As an adult Lawrence was said to always have money and a car even during hard times. He was a hardworking ranch hand and a very good horseman. He was in love with a local girl named Nancy Lacey who said they loved to dance together. At 5’6” and 122 pounds he was a small man but with war looming on the horizon he would soon find his calling outside of farming, and in an Army outside of his native Canada.
In 1941 Lawrence S. Gordon was working as a ranch hand on a sheep ranch in Casper, WY when the United States was forced into WWII. According to PFC Gordon’s family, he came home for Christmas in 1941, weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. While home for the holidays three of the four Gordon brothers (Robert, Bud, and Lawrence) decided to join the war effort. One of them joining the Canadian forces and the other two, including Lawrence, decided to join the US Army because they reasoned it was better equipped than the Canadian forces.
On January 24, 1942 Lawrence Samuel Gordon from Eastend, Saskatchewan, Canada became Private Gordon in the United States Army. After basic training he was assigned to the Reconnaissance Company, 32nd Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division on April 13, 1942. His assignment to a reconnaissance unit was most likely because of his farming and horse background. Training from 1942-1943 would take Gordon from his home in Canada to Louisiana (Camp Polk) to Desert Training Center in California to Virginia (Camp Picket) and finally to Pennsylvania (Fort Indiantown Gap). With the pending landings in France still months away, the build up of troops in England began. On September 5, 1943 Lawrence S. Gordon, along with 198 other men from the Reconnaissance Company boarded the Cape Town Castle troop ship for England. Little did Lawrence Gordon know that he would never see his family again. The closest he would ever come would be looking at the photos of his girlfriend and his family that were in his wallet.
On June 23, 1944, D+17 PFC Gordon and the other men from the Reconnaissance Company would land on Omaha Beach and would soon be thrust into the efforts to defeat Germany and the Nazi regime through terrible hedgerow country. They fought during the decisive “breakthrough” campaign at St. Lo and pushed quickly south and east before the German 7th Army defenses could catch up. On August 13, 1944 PFC Gordon awoke around 4:00am in a little small town called Contest, France just outside of Mayenne. The field order for that day said they were to move out at 0530 and that “A general enemy withdrawal appears to be underway. There seem to be elements of 32 enemy divisions, 9 of them armored, which have been located in the CAEN-VIRE-MORTAIN-MAYENNE bulge...VII U.S. Corps attacks 13 Aug 44 to seize the high ground LA FERTE-MACE - RANES to prevent enemy withdrawal to the east.” The Reconnaissance Company crossed the only bridge still available over the Mayenne River at that time which was later named after Private James MacRacken who was killed saving it from being blown by the Germans on August 5th. With the Reconnaissance Company’s platoons in front of the 15,000 man 3rd Armored Division, PFC Gordon and his unit were tasked once again with feeling their way through France with the enemy all around them in an attempt to complete the encirclement maneuver of the German 7th Army.
In the late afternoon on August 13th 1944 PFC Lawrence Gordon was killed by an enemy anti-tank shell that killed two others and wounded a fourth man. His missing crew report says that he was last seen 5 miles west of Carrouges, France. According to the only surviving member of his vehicle, Private Charles Kurtz, the men had been moved to the middle of the 3rd Armored Division column because reconnaissance was slowing down operations. It was late in the afternoon and as the men of the Spearhead division continued to press north, the fighting became fierce; the German’s knew they were being trapped. Private Kurtz who was in the vehicle with PFC Gordon says a German motorcycle passed their position and they were ordered by their lieutenant to give chase and shoot the rider who was most likely a messenger. The four men in the six wheeled, M-8 armored car were: Tec 5 Anthony Abato the driver from New York, Pvt Charles Kurtz the radio operator from Michigan, Pvt. James Bowman from Kentucky, and Pfc Lawrence Gordon from Canada. From the regiment’s maintenance records we believe they were in vehicle R-12 serial #6032990. As the men gave chase and rotated the turret of the armored vehicle to place a shot on the motorcycle they received a direct hit by an 88mm German shell. The shot, according to Kurtz was a direct hit to the gas tank which was located just behind Pvt. Bowman and PFC Gordon, neither man made it out of the turret