(This story was originally published June 7, 2021.)By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After nearly 80 years, the family of a WWII soldier may finally have some answers. In 1944, Harlan Melinsky of Howard Lake went missing in Italy after he and his fellow soldiers came under attack from Germans. Even after the war, there was no evidence of what happened to Melinsky — until now.

“He was just an all-around, you might say, country boy,” said Burton Horsch.

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Though their time together was short, Horsch remembers his uncle Harlan as kind, caring and hard-working.

“He was a farm boy. He helped my folks. He helped my folks a lot,” Horsch said.

But like so many young men during World War II, Melinsky found himself far away from farm life and fighting for his country overseas. In May 1944, his patrol came under attack by German soldiers near Itri, Italy.

“They went out on patrol. He was the first man out. When they all came back, he never came back,” said Margy Holm, Harlan’s niece.

“The first thing that happened was we got mail returned,” Horsch said. “Before the official notice that he went missing, letters started coming back.”

The family even received a letter from one of his squad mates, saying they searched for days with no luck. But they never gave up hope, and nearly eight decades after Melinsky disappeared, they finally caught a break. In April, a man in Italy named Rodrigo Bastoni made a discovery on his family’s farm.

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“He was just walking one day and saw something and picked it up, and it was the dog tag,” Holm said.

Bastoni did an Internet search and found a local newspaper article about Melinsky’s grave marker. That’s how he knew where to send the dog tag.

“He just said he knew that he had to try and get it home. And it is,” Holm said. “It’s about 77 years to the date he went missing that we got this.”

The dog tag arrived on May 15, which just happens to be Armed Forces Day.

If his remains are eventually found, Melinsky’s family would like them brought back here and buried at his family‘s cemetery plot in Howard Lake.

It was wind, rain or fate itself that allowed Melinsky’s dog tag to be found. His family is now praying that it’s the beginning of closure.

“A part of him has come home,” Holm said.

Before Melinsky’s dog tag was discovered, members of his family were asked to give DNA samples to a group that is going to Italy to try and find the remains of missing soldiers. They’re hoping the dog tag now gives the group a specific area to search.

John Lauritsen