World War II soldier's remains identified after 35-year search

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Thirty-five years ago, Joani McGinnis set out to help her mother find her brother.

All they had to go on was a letter from the military telling them that Army Sgt. Melvin Anderson died during the Hurtgen forest battle in Germany in November 1944.

"I'm really disappointed that my mom and my grandma, and my mom's sister are not here anymore and couldn't have known what we know," McGinnis said.

McGinnis's mother died about 20 years ago, but she pressed on. She learned how to track records and documents from all over the world that only seemed to contradict one another.

It was a journey that helped her get to know the uncle she never met.

"Even though he didn't know me, I know him. I know everything there is to know about him," McGinnis said. "I know exactly what he was doing the last day he was alive. I know what he was doing for two months before he died."

By chance, Sgt. Anderson was found in a gravesite of unknown soldiers in France and identified in 2018.

On Thursday, his sacrifice to our country was recognized when McGinnis was given a flag by the Honor and Remember Nebraska chapter.

"It's huge... It's a huge honor," McGinnis said.

But it's not the last chapter for her. With 73,000 missing-in-action service members from World War II alone, she's ready to help others.

"I've been working with the POW-MIA agency," McGinnis said. "I guess my goal in working with them is to recover as many MIA soldiers as we can."