By Mark Mitten
HOWARD LAKE, MN When he was only 23 years old, after only 11 months overseas, Private First Class Harlan W. Melinsky disappeared in WWII and what happened to him is still a mystery.
The youngest of four children, Melinsky was born in Howard Lake in 1920. He was well known and well liked around town. Active in the community, Melinsky volunteered to take care of the local skating rink. He also played team sports, and graduated from Howard Lake High School (now Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School) in 1938 as the class valedictorian. That same year, Melinsky played baseball for the Howard Lake Town Team and won the district.
While still a Minnesota resident, Melinsky took a job in Seattle at Boeing Aircraft making bolts for airplanes. When World War II began, Melinsky was drafted and entered the Army as a Ranger in the Blue Devils Division.
“He went into the service in January of ’43 right after his 22nd birthday, and he went missing in May of ’44,” his nephew, Burton Horsch of Howard Lake recalled. “He entered the service between Christmas and New Year’s, then went to boot camp at Fort Robinson in Arkansas. After a six-month furlough, he went overseas.”
After only 17 months of active duty, Melinsky vanished. He had been sent to Italy, and was on patrol with his unit in the vicinity of Naples, approximately 25 miles from the city.
Soon after, a letter addressed to Melinsky’s father was sent from JA Ulio, Major General of the War Department. It stated that Melinsky was a scout for a unit which was “engaged in an attack on the enemy near Itri, Italy, May 20, 1944. The report further states that the unit was fired upon by the enemy and it was following this action that your son was reported missing.”
The letter also noted that Melinsky’s name was not listed as a prisoner of war that the International Red Cross obtained.
“He was with the Ranger Division. His group went out, but when they re-grouped, he didn’t show up,” Borsch said. “They found some of his equipment, I heard [they found] a canteen with his name on it, maybe a rifle but no remnants.”
Even though Melinsky disappeared in 1944 and his death was not clearly ascertained, for insurance purposes the government assigned him an official death date, May 21, 1945, which appears on his tombstone.
Melinsky was given a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Melinsky was single. Some of his relatives, like Horsch, still live in the area and cherish his memory. Even though his body was never recovered, the family placed a tombstone in his honor at the Howard Lake Village Cemetery.