After 74 years, Walter Mintus will be coming home
By JARED STONESIFER | Beaver County Times, Pa. | Published: August 15, 2018
CONWAY, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Imagine waiting 74 years for an answer about the whereabouts of a loved one.
That's what happened to Conway resident Rich Kozak, whose uncle Walter Mintus went missing in action in July 1944 while serving in the Pacific during World War II.
Mintus, who served in the same U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron as future President George H.W. Bush, was shot down in late July over the archipelago nation of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean. He went missing in action and was presumed dead, but his remains were never recovered and the case seemingly went cold for many decades.
That is until February, when Kozak was contacted by the U.S. Navy, which was seeking a DNA sample to compare to recovered pieces of an aircraft found on Palau. It took several months to verify that DNA, but Kozak said Monday that the tests finally came back and that his uncle's remains had finally been recovered.
"All these years, my family always thought someday he would be found or returned home," Kozak, 79, said. "It's very emotional."
Kozak was 6 years old when his uncle went missing, but he still has fond memories of the man. He remembers Walter Mintus coming to the family farm and played games with the children.
"He was just a great uncle," he said. "I really admired him."
Kozak said a Navy official is set to visit him in early September to "lay out all the details of what's going to happen next." Because of Navy protocol, the family must wait until 45 days after that visit to hold an official funeral. When it does happen, the funeral will be held in Portage, Pa., a small town in Cambria County between Ebensburg and Johnstown.
Kozak said the outpouring of support for his family has been overwhelming. Several public officials in Portage and in Cambria County have reached out to help plan an elaborate ceremony, and a business has pledged to donate food for the service.
The funeral director is planning to come visit Kozak in Conway to plan the service, and Kozak said he is hoping to raise enough money to erect a plaque or statue in Portage to honor his uncle.
Also, he said the American Legion in Baden has reached out to him to see if the organization can help in any way.
"It's really been something," Kozak said. "Every day we're talking to somebody different, and new doors are opening."
Kozak said anyone willing to donate to erect the plaque or statue may email him at Richkoman4@gmail.com.
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