ROSEVILLE, Minn. - For nearly 73 years, Catherine Tauer waited.
At first, she hoped her husband, a World War II soldier, would come home alive. As years passed, her doubts grew. As decades passed, her hopes changed to that his remains would be found and returned.
Last month, the remains of her husband, Staff Sgt. Gerald "Jerry" Jacobsen, were found and identified. Tauer, 94, was presented with his Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals Thursday. Next Friday, he will be buried with full military honors at Fort Snelling.
"I'm just so happy to have him home," said Tauer of Roseville. "It seems like a lift because you wonder and you wonder and you wonder where he is. ... It's just a relief to think that I can go out to Fort Snelling and see him."
It was 1944 when Jacobsen, of Little Canada, went missing. Tauer didn't think he was dead - she thought he'd been taken prisoner.
She hadn't heard from him for 10 years when she married another man. He also died young, and Tauer never married again.
"That was enough men for me," she said.
Without any information on Jacobsen, Tauer took up bowling, a hobby she pursued for 50 years.
"That was the only thing that kept me going, that team," Tauer said.
Though she quit competing, her teammates still take her to tournaments, she said.
The quest to find Jacobsen began in 2008, when Tauer's niece helped Tauer contact the Defense Department.
In 2010, Jacobsen's brother Lester Jacobsen submitted the DNA necessary for the department to identify Jacobsen's remains, if found. Lester, also a WWII vet, died just one week later.
Tauer sent some of Jerry Jacobsen's letters to the White House, hoping they would help locate him, but to no avail.
It was an amateur historian from Illinois, Roberta Russo, who first began to make progress. She was researching WWII records on her own, investigating an unknown buried soldier. Russo noticed four numbers stitched onto the unknown soldier's underwear - his military serial number. She identified him as Jacobsen.
Russo recruited Jed Henry, a Wisconsinite whose nonprofit helps identify missing soldiers. Jacobsen's nephew Brad Jacobsen and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also helped confirm Jacobsen's identity.
At their request, the Defense Department exhumed the grave, the remains were flown to a lab in Nebraska, and using Lester Jacobsen's DNA sample, Jerry Jacobsen's identity was confirmed.
Through the seven decades, Tauer kept a ring from Jacobsen (the first gift he gave her), a picture of him by her bedside, and the dozens of letters he sent her with the word "darling" sprinkled all over - 32 times in one of the letters.
"I'm sure he loved me with all his heart because of them letters," Tauer said. "He was so nice. I'm 94, and I never met another man as nice as he was. He was very much in love with me."
Tauer's handkerchief at the medal ceremony Thursday was soaked with tears, but Tauer's whole face was a smile. She said she didn't expect so many people to attend.
"When Jerry was deployed in 1944, he left a part of himself here with you, Catherine," Klobuchar said Thursday. "We know that because it shines through today ... in the way that you talk about him."
And with just one week left, Tauer said she's as excited as ever to see Jacobsen, even if it's at his funeral.
"I'm so mixed up, it's kind of unbelievable. I don't know if I'm anxious because I wanna see that grave so bad, but I gotta wait till next week," Tauer said.
The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.