Family of Missing WWII Radioman May Get Confirmation of His Fate

Rich Kozak holds a photography of his uncle, Walter Mintus. Mintus served in the Navy and was shot down during World War II. His remains weren't recovers. Now, the Department of Defense/Navy think they may have found them. (Sally Maxson/BCT staff)

For the last 74 years, members of Walter E. "Bert" Mintus' family have held onto the hope that one day he'd finally come home.

They included Bert's stepsister Caroline, who never gave up hope that he was alive, Mintus' nephew, Rich Kozak, of Conway, said.

"I think until the day she died she thought Bert was going to walk through (the) door one day," Kozak said. "She never gave up hope that he was alive."

While it would be nothing short of miraculous if Bert made it back to his tiny hometown of Portage, Pa. in Cambria County between Ebensburg and Johnstown, the surviving members of his family -- including Kozak -- may soon have a better idea of what happened to him on July 27, 1944.

That's the day Mintus went missing in action in the Pacific during World War II.

Mintus was part of U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron, known in military-ese as VT-51 -- the same squadron that former President George H.W. Bush was a part of -- and Mintus, a radioman, was in a plane that was shot down that day over Palau.

In February, Kozak's niece was contacted by the U.S. Navy's POW/MIA branch, seeking a DNA sample because they recovered pieces of an aircraft on Palau. Kozak was asked to provide a DNA sample to potentially verify that remains found this year are his uncle, he said.

"Please bear in mind that identification analysis takes some time," Rudy Gonzales, of the Navy Personnel Command wrote Kozak.

He's excited to potentially get confirmation about his uncle's fate, Kozak said.

It's something that's haunted the memories of his family members for decades.

"There wasn't a lot of talk, because of the sorrow that went with it," Kozak said.

He was 6 when his uncle went missing, but he has fond memories of Uncle Bert. He remembers Bert visiting the family farm and playing with the kids in the hay barn. Bert also would give Kozak and his siblings rides on the Indian motorcycle he had, Kozak said.

Bert and his brothers were "great uncles," Kozak said.

The day the family received the telegram that Mintus was shot down and presumed missing in action was sad, Kozak remembers, even though he was only 6 years old.

"There was a lot of crying... I remember them playing this record (the day they found out he was MIA)," Kozak said.

Mintus had recorded a message to his family that was pressed onto a phonograph record and mailed home during the war.

In 2003, Agnes Phillips, Kozak's sister, wrote former President George H.W. Bush seeking more information about her uncle and he sent back a package detailing what he knew about "your uncle, the heroic Walter E. Minus."

"Your uncle went on a mission to Palau on 27 July 1944 with Lt (Roland Eichard) Houle and they never returned... they were both shot down. I was shot down on 2 September 1944 and lost both of my crewman," Bush wrote. "When I worked at the White House, we tried to locate all living VT-51 squadron members and relatives of the deceased members... if you have any questions, please let us know. Barbara and I are most appreciative of your kind words for our son (President George W. Bush). Please keep him and our brave troops in your prayers."

Kozak's awaiting word on the DNA results, he said. It's something to consider that "they're still searching for people" who are missing in action from World War II.

"There was always that question mark there," about whether Mintus was captured or killed in action that day, Kozak said, and closure would be welcomed. ___

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