Home at last.

Radioman 3rd Class Dante Sylvester Tini returned to his family late Thursday night and will be laid to rest Saturday next to his parents.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. Tini was 19 years old and serving as a radioman on the USS Oklahoma when torpedoes ripped through the hull of the ship. Tini had been scheduled to go on leave Dec. 10 and then he was going to be re-assigned. Tragically, Tini and 428 other sailors perished on the Oklahoma that day.

Tini is the sixth sailor from Minnesota who died on the USS Oklahoma to have been identified and returned home. Tini is the first one from the Northland to return home. There are still 1,581 personnel from Minnesota still unaccounted for, covering all military conflicts.

"They said it couldn't be done, but we did it and he's finally home," said Tini's niece Renee Prout about her uncle's remains being flown to Duluth as they are usually flown to Minneapolis and transported from there.

A long time coming

In 2012, Tini's niece, Barb Maki, of Virginia, received a phone call from the U.S. Navy asking for a sample of her DNA with the hope of identifying the remains of her uncle.

Maki and her older sister, Rachel Bauer, gave their DNA to be compared to remains that were disinterred from a mass grave in Honolulu. It took nearly six years, but Bauer got the call in August last year that she was a 100-percent match to her uncle's remains.

Tini’s remains, along with Bauer, landed at Duluth International Airport just before 11 p.m. Thursday in a flag-draped casket. He was met by more than 20 family members.

A person at Duluth International Airport on Thursday holds flags.  Steve Kuchera / News Tribune
A person at Duluth International Airport on Thursday holds flags. Steve Kuchera / News Tribune
As the casket was placed on a conveyor belt and unloaded from the plane, the only sounds that could be heard on the tarmac were that of the airplane and the commands from the sailors of the Navy Operational Support Center Minneapolis and the noise of the flags held by the Duluth Honor Guard flapping in the wind.

Passengers on the plane looked out their windows and took pictures as Tini was unloaded from the plane and loaded into a hearse.

Before the United Airlines plane arrived from Chicago, Prout and Maki said they were overflowing with joy. Since their story was told by multiple media organizations last December, there has been an outpouring of support from the Iron Range.

“We’ve heard from people all over,” Prout said. “The Iron Range is awesome and it’s an awesome place to live. It’s like one big family.”

Prout and Maki said they are thankful for everyone who has helped make this a possibility as well as to everyone who has or is currently serving in the military.

“Thank you for giving up everything for our country,” Maki said.

When asked earlier in the night what their reaction would be when they finally saw the casket, both women said they would probably start crying.

“But they will be tears of joy,” Maki said.

And tears of joy are exactly what were shed Thursday night.

Funeral Information

Where: Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Virginia

Day: Saturday, May 25

Time: 10-11 a.m. visitation; 11 am. funeral mass

Burial: Following funeral mass at Calvary Cemetery (Greenwood Cemetery) in Virginia