NEW RICHMOND --- In 1947, a New Richmond family said its final goodbyes to sons Capt. Robert Harmon and Pvt. John R. Peirson, both killed in action in 1945 in World War II.
Now, those two half-brothers will be remembered once more as an effort is underway to rename the New Richmond Post Office in their honor as the Captain Robert C. Harmon and Private John R. Peirson Post Office. A bill to do so has passed the U.S. Senate, and has been introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Since hearing the news it’s been a surreal, exciting, humbling and extremely proud moment for our family, but most importantly for veterans,” said Jim Pierson, the nephew of the two men.
The son of the veterans' youngest brother, Jim Peirson grew up hearing the stories of the two uncles he never had the chance to meet -- and all they stood for -- from his family and also from friends and acquaintances.
“Growing up in New Richmond, they, like so many others across this nation, learned the value of personal responsibility, frugality, humility, a strong work ethic, commitment, integrity and self-sacrifice,” Jim Pierson said.
The two served at the same time, but nearly a world apart. Harmon was an Army Air Corps pilot in the European theater for four years. He was flying a mission over Paris when he went missing on May 29, 1944.
“His family and close friends refused to give him up, even after a year had passed and his government had declared him officially dead,” the dual obituary states.
His death was confirmed in July 1945, when the family received a letter from Harmon’s crewman, who had been a prisoner of war.
John Peirson served in the Pacific Theater as an Army infantryman. He was wounded in battle on April 17, 1945, during the Easter Day assault on Okinawa and died from his injuries.
Harmon’s body was never found, but the two brothers were buried together, side by side, in 1947 at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
The two brothers' survivors included parents and eight siblings, and John Peirson also left behind his wife, Virginia, and two sons, Bob and Bruce. Bob is alive today.
“He still remembers walking with his dad to the depot in New Richmond and watching his dad get on the train and turn around and wave, and that was the last time he saw his dad,” said Sally Berkholder, who started the process for the renaming.
Berkholder learned about the brothers two years ago during a church project. Members came across two prints donated by the Peirson family in memory of Harmon and John Peirson. Jim Peirson and his mother, Bev, shared the story of the men.
“I just thought what a wonderful story this is,” she said. “And that they should be honored in some way in their community.”
Berkholder reached out to Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office in what she described as a lark, but Baldwin’s office responded. They partnered with Sen. Ron Johnson’s office to cosponsor a bill in the Senate, and the ball started rolling from there.
The effort has received lots of community support, from the American Legion, St. Croix VFW, city of New Richmond and the New Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Berkholder said.
“It’s been a community effort from beginning to end,” she said.
Berkholder’s father also served in World War II, so the story resonated with her.
“When you honor one fallen soldier, I think you honor them all,” she said.
Nephew Jim Peirson said the renaming is heart-warming.
“I wish my grandparents, aunts and uncles were around to see this honor,” he said. “Something tells me they probably already know.”