Oct. 1, 2009
LAUREL — After more than 40 years, Spec. Don Grella is back in his hometown.
Grella was listed as missing in action after his chopper crashed in 1965 on Dec. 28. In April of 2006, about 40 years after the crash, the crash site was discovered near Ah Khe in Vietnam. The site was excavated in March of this year. The remains and artifacts were brought to Hawaii to be examined. The identification of all four crew members was official in June.
On Saturday Grella’s remains were returned home, traveling almost 10,000 miles from Vietnam, to Hawaii, then to Omaha before the final miles home to Laurel.
Hundreds gathered Saturday to welcome fallen pilot Grella, missing in action for 44 years, as he was escorted back by his sister Shirley Haase, her huband Ron, the Patriot Guard Riders and even several members of the community.
“I knew the people in the small towns of Nebraska, they never forget, and I knew they would turn out for Don,” Haase remarked. “It was more than we imagined.”
The procession traveled through Homer, Scribner, West Point, Beemer, Wisner and Wayne. People gathered and showed their respect as the procession drove through each town. Additional riders joined the procession at each town. By the time they reached Laurel the group spanned five miles.
Riders and Laurel residents filled the streets as Grella had one last ride down main street and one last ‘U-Turn’ at the end of the street.
“I know Don would have like that – I know I did!” said Haase.
Flags were flying and Grella was saluted as he was taken into the funeral home.
“It was an honor to have his return prompt a show of patriotism that goes way beyond Don and our family,” Haase said. “We are so thankful for what everyone has done and to be from such a great place. We are very proud to be from Laurel.”
Gov. Dave Heineman has given permission for the community of Laurel to fly flags at half staff on Oct. 3, to honor Grella. Visitation will take place the evening of Oct. 2 at United Lutheran Church in Laurel. The funeral service is set for Saturday Oct. 3, at 11:00 a.m. at the Laurel-Concord High School. Arrangements have been made with Hasemann Funeral Home.