Reporting Esme Murphy
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The daughter of a World War II hero says it’s a miracle.
Precious medals her father was awarded for his service were stolen in a North Minneapolis burglary last year. And against all odds, those medals have been returned by a thief who apparently had regrets.
Roger Neis was a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March. He was one of thousands of American POWs captured by the Japanese and forced to march 80 miles without food or water in scorching temperatures, across part of what is now the Philippines.
As many as 10,000 prisoners died. Those dark days are something Neis, who passed away in 2007 at 87, rarely spoke about.
“His legs were so badly beaten he would never wear shorts,” said his daughter, Nikki Neis.
Last year, his widow’s home in Northeast Minneapolis was burglarized, among the items taken were Neis ‘ medals.
“My dad meant everything to me,” Nikki said, “and to see those gone…I can’t even tell you.”
Fingerprints led to the arrest of Christopher Lee Burgess, then 41, of Minneapolis.
At Burgess’s sentencing, Nikki told Burgess about what the loss of the medals meant to her family.
“I wanted him to understand he didn’t just take medals, he took a legacy that was left to share with his children and grandchildren,” she said.
Burgess was sentenced to a year in the workhouse; he was released this summer. A few weeks ago, the prosecutor got a call from Burgess’s defense attorney.
The defense attorney turned over the medals. At a press conference Wednesday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman returned he medals.
“It’s my absolute privilege and delight to give Nikki her father’s medals,” Freeman said.
Nikki thought she would never see the bronze star and two oak leaf clusters again. She says she’s grateful she’ll have the medals to give to her children.
“It’s a miracle,” she said. “All I can say is that it’s nothing short of a miracle.”
We were not able to reach Burgess, and his defense attorney did not return our calls.
Josh Larson, the prosecutor in the case, said the defense attorney gave no details about where the medals had been kept. The defense attorney only told him that a little bird had dropped them off.