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Remains of last Yugoslav king arrive in Serbia

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 9:41 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Laid to rest in Chicago suburb of Libertyville more than 40 years ago, King Peter II of Yugoslavia long held the honor of being the only European monarch buried on U.S. soil. Now he also has the distinction of being the only European monarch disinterred from U.S. soil.

In a ceremony fit for, well, a king, the remains of the exiled leader arrived in Belgrade, Serbia, on Tuesday, where they were greeted by Serbian state and church leaders and the king’s son, Crown Prince Alexander, who had years ago requested the transfer of his father’s grave site.

“It was a very emotional day and a dream come true,” Prince Alexander said in an email to the Chicago Tribune Tuesday, adding that his father told him he always wanted to return home. “Today meant a lot to me since my father’s wish has nearly been fulfilled.”

The (presumably) final journey for King Peter II Karadjordjevic marked another unusual twist in his extraordinary saga.

Thrust into leadership at age 11 when his father, King Alexander I, was assassinated in 1934, Peter II fought the Nazi invasion but was forced into exile after the government’s forced surrender. By the time of Peter’s death in Denver in 1970 at age 47, the communist rule of his homeland made his burial there impossible.

He reportedly requested burial at St. Sava, a Serbian Orthodox monastery in Libertyville, Ill., where his tomb drew thousands of visitors a year.

His son’s announcement several years ago that he would seek to return King Peter to his homeland — Prince Alexander said the remains were placed in a chapel near the Royal Palace in Belgrade, where they will stay until a formal state funeral in May — prompted some initial opposition from some Serbian-Americans.

“Maybe we would have preferred that the remains stay here,” said the Rev. Milorad Loncar of the New Gracanica Monastery in Third Lake, Ill., outside Chicago. “But the decision was not ours to make.”

Serbian Consul General Desko Nikitovic said called Tuesday’s ceremony an important symbolic moment for his countrymen.

“This will help heal some wounds that we Serbs still have from the Second World War,” he said. “I feel like we’ll have closure after 65 years.”

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