78 years later, WWII airman to be buried back home in Minnesota

A WWII airman's remains are returned to Minnesota for his burial.

It was an emotional moment for one WWII airman's family as his remains were returned home. 

His fighter plane disappeared decades ago, all this time resting lost in the jungle.

Second Lieutenant William Melville was fresh out of high school when he joined the Army Air Force during World War II.

"I don't think he was in the service very long, maybe six months before he was actually trained enough to fly," said Kathy Massey, Melville’s niece.

The army assigned him to the 36th Fighter Squadron where he flew a P-39 Airacobra. In 1943, General Douglas McArthur was just beginning his campaign to recapture the Pacific from the Japanese. It required not just sea power but air power.

On October 28, Melville and three other pilots flew out of Port Morseby in Papua New Guinea on a combat mission. But, they soon flew into violent weather. Three of the P-39’s crashed, and Melville was never seen again.

All these years, his family was left with nothing but letters and memories of the young man who just wanted to fly.

"He thought that my grandmother, Jeanne, would have loved flying. He said someday, everybody is going to fly," Massey said.

In 1987, a U.S. Army search crew documented a crash site in New Guinea that discovered the remains of one of the missing pilots. Still looking for the other missing fighter planes, they returned two years ago and excavated another crash site.

This time, they revealed a key piece of evidence.

"They found a machine gun in his airplane, which had the serial number attached to his name, so they knew that that was Second Lieutenant William Melville," Massey said.

Now, 78 years later, the Minneapolis kid who just wanted to fly gets his final flight. Uncle Billy – as he was known – is finally home.

Melville will be buried at Fort Snelling on Friday morning. A team of airmen from the 36th Fighter Squadron stationed in Korea are here to honor him with his final burial.