U.S. Military grants awards to John L. Opgrand after 77 years of family fighting for his recognition

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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) -- A Minnesota family is finally getting to recognize their family member for his service.

Six generations of family members held hands Saturday to remember American hero John L. Opgrand.

He was the 5th child of 16 born to Anton and Gida Opgrand of Ulen, Minnesota. Opgrand was a Private First-Class in the U.S. Army Air Forces and served with the 19th Squadron, 20th Air Base Group in WWII until 1942.

Opgrand enlisted on October 27, 1939 and served until 1942. He was sent to the Philippines and was later captured and was in the Cabanatuan POW camp, Province of Nueva Eoija, Luzon Island, Philippine Islands. He was in the death march and was tortured and was later pronounced dead on June 10, 1942.

His name is on the wall of the missing at the Manila American Cemetery, Taguig City, Philippines. He is one of the many American heroes that were never found or brought home.

However, Saturday, he was recognized for his service.

"We've just received several letters from other people that johnny was in the service with that what a hero he was," said his Great Niece, Lori Pladson. "He'd pick people up walking through the jungle and save them."

Opgrand was presented with three awards by Clay County Veteran Service Officer Curt Cannon. He received the Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII, Prisoner of War Medal and the American Defense Service Medal.

"After seeing what I saw today this family, sticking together and going after things that are rightfully deserving, it's worth the fight," said Clay County Veteran Service Officer, Curt Cannon.

"Just don't give up hope, stay together, we're a very strong family," said Pladson.

It also teaches a lesson for others to follow.

"It sends a very important message to the younger generation about how important it is to remember and never forget how precious our freedoms are," said Minnesota Senator Kent Eken.

The family says that Opgrand is also qualified for the Purple Heart Award, but hasn't received it yet.