Bernard Doyle joined the Navy in 1940 soon after graduating from high school in Red Cloud, Nebraska, to earn a paycheck and escape his family’s Dust Bowl-ravaged farm. Tech High School graduate Melvin Anderson quit his steady job with an Omaha dry cleaner to enlist in the Army a few months after Pearl Harbor.
Neither came home from World War II. Doyle died Dec. 7, 1941, aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma, sunk by Japanese torpedoes in the first minutes of the Pearl Harbor attack. Anderson died along with another soldier on Nov. 25, 1944, when a German artillery shell hit his tank during the long, ugly battle of Hürtgen Forest in Germany.
Their families never knew for certain what happened to them — only that they were gone. Neither man’s body was ever identified.
Both men’s remains were exhumed from graves marked “unknown” in distant military cemeteries. They were identified this year through the efforts of forensic pathologists at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency laboratory in Nebraska, at Offutt Air Force Base.
Anderson will be buried Friday at Omaha National Cemetery, the first burial at the two-year-old cemetery of a service member killed in combat, and the first of a formerly missing soldier. Doyle will be buried Saturday alongside four of his six siblings in Lake City, Iowa, where one of his sisters moved after the war.
“It is bittersweet, absolutely bittersweet,” said Frances Nutter, 95, of Lake City, who is Doyle’s sister. “It is such a relief, having him close.”
Anderson’s niece, Joani McGinnis, said she spent 35 years trying to find out what happened to her uncle.
“I’m grateful that we have anything returned,” she said.
Doyle was the second-oldest of seven children who grew up near Esbon, Kansas — just across the state line from Red Cloud — part of a family battered by the Great Depression.
“We were very, very poor,” Nutter said.
She described Doyle as an “ideal teenager,” who brought in wood for the family’s stove on cold mornings before leaving for school.
Nutter said she had gone to work at an armaments plant in Denver by the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. She couldn’t get time off from work to attend his memorial service.
“I never even got to say goodbye,” she said.
The Doyle family moved to Hastings in 1943. Nutter married an Iowa man she met at the armaments plant, and they moved in 1947 to Lake City, his hometown.
She said the family never learned any details about how Doyle , a 19-year-old seaman 2nd class, died. But the family kept his memory alive. She still displays his photo, sometimes draped with a black tie that he kept stored in a Honolulu YMCA locker. That was the only possession returned to the family.
“We talked about him all the time,” Nutter said. “My children are just as familiar with his childhood as they are with mine.”
Melvin Anderson was a Kansas City native, the son of a Swedish-born cabinetmaker and his wife. They lived for a few years in Stromsburg, Nebraska, a town settled by Swedes, and moved to Omaha when he was 10.
“He was a laid-back kind of a guy, a jokester,” said McGinnis, 67, who lives in Shenandoah, Iowa.
After joining the Army in 1942, he served stateside until he was sent to England in February 1944, ahead of the Normandy invasion. He was wounded in the arm by a sniper when his unit landed at Omaha Beach four days after D-Day. He spent three months recuperating before rejoining his unit, Company C of the 803rd Tank Destroyer Battalion.
On the day he died, Anderson, 31, a sergeant, was commanding the five-man crew of an M10 tank destroyer that was shelling the town of Grosshau, Germany. When the M10 was hit, three crew members escaped. But Anderson and another soldier, Cpl. Joseph Akers, 23, couldn’t get out before the M10 burned.
A U.S. investigation team examined the wreckage in 1947 and found some human remains. Four years later, they were declared unidentifiable and buried in a military cemetery in France.
McGinnis, who lived with her grandmother in Omaha as a girl, remembers that she was active in the Gold Star families organization and the American Legion auxiliary.
“After Mel was killed, she was trying to support the military,” McGinnis said.
In 1982, McGinnis’ mother asked her to find out where Anderson was buried.
She and Anderson’s surviving relatives learned the full truth only this year, after meeting with scientists from the Offutt lab. They revealed that the grave in France contained bones from both Anderson and Akers. Using DNA testing, they were able to separate them. Each family will hold a burial service this month.
None of Anderson’s four siblings are still living. McGinnis and three other nieces are his closest survivors. The family will hold a funeral service at 10 a.m. Friday at John A. Gentleman Mortuaries at 4712 S. 82nd St. in Ralston. Burial will follow at 1 p.m. at Omaha National Cemetery.