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Vet finds brother's grave at Arlington

John Arsers kneels down next to the headstone at his brother's grave in Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of Chad Cummings)

WASHINGTON -- World War II veteran John Arsers was a man on a mission when the buses pulled up alongside the Memorial Amphitheater at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Friday afternoon, April 29, in Arlington National Cemetery.

The New Ulm man had a hand-drawn map and a grave number marking the spot in Section 48 where his older brother and fellow World War II veteran, William Arsers, was buried nearly five years ago.

"He was a 20-year Navy man, so it was his privilege to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery," Arsers said.

More than 328,000 people are buried in Arlington, with an average of 32 to 35 funerals scheduled each day. Though it was once possible for any person who served in the military to be buried there, these days the honor is limited to military officers.

"When I found out I was going to come on this trip, my other brother in New Ulm drew me a little map and gave me a grave number," Arsers said, adding that he was told the marker was near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"I didn't get a chance to come out for the memorial. At my age, I thought this would be a good chance to see him," he said. "I thought I'd probably be able to find it, but I really couldn't find the exact location on that little map."

That's when Honor Flight Southwest Minnesota staffer Larry Lanphere and medical team member Chad Cummings stepped in to help.

Cummings said when Arsers exited the bus, he immediately took off from the group. Concerned about where he was headed, the two followed him down the grassy slope in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as the rest of the veterans on the journey found their spot to watch the changing of the guard.

"We looked and looked, and all of a sudden, the numbers just didn't make any sense," Arsers said. "I was kind of depressed that we couldn't find it. I thought, 'Golly, we've come this far.'"

His mood was quickly changed, however.

"There was a little patch across the road, and (Cummings) went over and -- by golly -- he found it," Arsers said.

When he discovered the marker, Cummings told Arsers to "come over and see his brother."

The white marble marker was the "very first stone at the bottom of the steps, behind the Tomb of the Unknown," said Cummings.

William "Bill" Arsers Sr. entered the Navy in 1942, serving in both World War II and the Korean War. As a member of the U.S. Navy Band, he spent most of his time in Washington, D.C. After his retirement, he settled in Florida.

"Bill really didn't have any solid roots in Florida -- he'd been living in Washington for so many years," Arsers said. "His wife just died recently, and she's going to be buried next to him in the middle of May."

Arsers was one of four brothers to serve in the military. Both of his younger brothers followed in Bill's footsteps and served in the U.S. Navy Band for 20 years each, but Arsers chose a different route when he enlisted in 1944.

"I'm the Merchant Marine," Arsers said with a smile. "I'm the only one on the (Honor Flight III) trip."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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