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VIDEO: Family welcomes home Pearl Harbor sailor at Hector Airport, 81 years after he died in the attack

It was 1941. Budd Nigg was just a small town farm boy who wanted to serve his country.

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The remains of U.S. Navy Seaman 2nd Class Budd Nigg arrived in Fargo Wednesday June 1. He will finally be laid to rest Saturday, June 4.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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FARGO — Budd Nigg grew up near Peever, South Dakota — not far from Minnesota's Lake Traverse — an hour and a half south of Fargo.

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Budd Nigg in his uniform.
Contributed / Nigg family

Eighty-one years after joining the Navy, Budd Nigg is finally back home.

The remains of the young man who died at Pearl Harbor were just recently identified, and overnight — after years of so many unknowns — were given a heartfelt homecoming.

"Doing okay, honey. It is pretty awesome isn't it?" Kris Nigg asked her husband, Dan Nigg, a great-nephew of Budd Nigg.

Great-nephews, cousins and family from the Browns Valley, Minnesota, and Peever, South Dakota, areas waited nervously. They were almost in disbelief. The moment was finally here.

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"(I)t's kind of surreal that it's actually happening because my great-uncle Jerry was the youngest one (of the siblings), died in 2020 and he always said, 'this day will come and you guys gotta to get him home.' and it's just unreal that its happening," Dan Nigg said.

According to Dan Nigg, the family has been around for 130 years, and Budd Nigg came from a huge family of 12 children.

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Budd Nigg was from Peever, South Dakota, and came from a large family.
Contributed / Nigg family

"It was a very, very, fun, loving family," said William Nigg, a cousin to Dan Nigg.

With so many Nigg relatives serving in the military, nobody was surprised when Budd Nigg joined the Navy in 1941. He was 22. But nobody was prepared for Dec. 7, 1941.

Budd Nigg was on board the U.S.S. Oklahoma when torpedoes hit. Budd Nigg's three cousins were on board as well.

"(H)e (a cousin) said they he had seen Budd on a gun shooting at planes, and then he came back and a Zero had come by and hit him with shells and then Budd was laying there deceased," Dan Nigg said.

It took days, but Budd Nigg's family back in Minnesota finally got the news they feared. The Western Union telegram. Budd Nigg had not survived.

His remains would not be identified for decades, buried with so many at Pearl Harbor. But thanks to changes with DNA science, the military recently called the family to say Budd Nigg was coming home.

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"All the years they've heard from their family about their uncle Budd, and what a sense of closure that was needed by the family that they never had," Kris Nigg said.

So shortly before midnight, Wednesday, June 1, Hector International Airport prepared for an incredible welcome.

The Navy sent funeral honors and volunteers with the Patriot Guard came to show their respect for a fallen brother, finally home.

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Budd Nigg's remains being removed from the airplane.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News

And then, quietly, they walked to the tarmac where Delta Flight 1730 rolled up.

Inside the cargo hold were the remains of Navy Seaman 2nd class Budd Nigg. Sailors saluted, family witnessing a moment they thought would ever get here. The opportunity to honor and bury Budd.

"As Americans, we know what people went through back then, and this is everyone's sailor. It's everyone's sailor," Kris Nigg said.

On board the Delta flight, passengers and crew stayed on the plane, their way to honor Budd, and then the sailor who bravely gave his life for country at Pearl Harbor, came home to family a hero in a flag draped casket.

"(It's) just a feeling of closure and a feeling of honor," Kris Nigg said.

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A silent summer night, lights finally revealing this last chapter in Budd Nigg's long story of service. While nearly all his family had no recollection of him, they all knew him, and called him their own. It's why they had to come, for one last tribute.

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Honor Guard pay their respects as Budd Nigg's remains Thursday, June 2.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News

Family is flying in from across the country, and hundreds from the Browns Valley area are expected at Budd Nigg's funeral the morning of Saturday, June 4.

Related Topics: FARGO
Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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