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After 77 Years, A World War II Soldier Finally Comes Home

Clarence Brotherton and family.jpg
Courtesy of Linda Hatfield
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Clarence Brotherton, far right, with his family.

Clarence Brotherton went to war at 20 years old.

He never came home.

Brotherton, of Gibson City, was killed in Germany during a 1944 battle. In the chaos of fighting, it was impossible to recover his remains. Brotherton ended up buried at Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium, interred as an unknown soldier.

Linda Hatfield is Brotherton’s niece. She said her father, Clarence’s brother, also served oversees during the war. He worked for the Army in graves registration, collecting bodies from the battlefield. Hatfield said her father was especially devastated by the loss of his younger brother.

“Because he knew what those battlegrounds looked like,” she said. Her father scoured cemeteries and mausoleums looking for his brother to no avail.

When he returned home from the war to Gibson City (about 40 miles east of Bloomington-Normal), Hatfield’s father wanted to erect a marker to commemorate his brother Clarence. But their mother wouldn’t hear of it.

“My grandmother never, ever gave up on Clarence coming home. She refused to have any kind of marker put up for him because she didn’t want him to come home and think that she had given up on him.”

Many years later, after her father and grandmother had died, Hatfield’s family did put a gravestone in the family plot for Brotherton.

“We’ve always honored him the same as any other member of the family. It’s just that he wasn’t there,” Hatfield said.

But in April 2020, scientists from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified Brotherton’s remains through the use of DNA analysis and circumstantial evidence.

“When I got the call, I was just in tears,” said Hatfield, who is one of Brotherton’s few remaining relatives.

“Unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine the joy of having closure. Of him not just being nowhere,” she said.

Hatfield and her family are planning a quiet funeral for Brotherton at the family plot, where he will be buried alongside the brother who tried so hard to bring him home.

“It’s closure for our family,” Hatfield said. “It just feels right. They’re all together now.”

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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