The answer, with a sad ending, was close at hand after all.
Steve Topi of Sugar Creek got curious about an Examiner article nearly four years, and he got to the bottom of it.
The mystery started when a letter written by a Sugar Creek man in the U.S. Army turned up decades later in a house in France. The letter, evidently written in the frantic and dangerous weeks after D-Day in June 1944, raised intriguing questions about James Morgan of the 304th Engineers Brigade.
“Dear Helen,” he wrote to his sister in Sugar Creek. “I’ve just changed my address so I thought I’d let you know, I have been transferred to the seventy-ninth division! In case you hadn’t seen it in the papers the seventy ninth was the first division in Cherbourg.”
Cherbourg, with its deep-water port, was a key objective after D-Day and fell to the Allies in late June.
“So wish me luck. I guess I’ll need it,” he wrote. “There isn’t much to worry about, sis, I believe I’ll make it home yet. I’ve been trying like hell to get there for the last three years. I think this is the last lap, but, the toughest.”
But that letter never got mailed.
“You know, they left really rapidly after D-Day, and they left things,” Doug Clark, a San Diego resident who was drawn into the mystery, told The Examiner four years ago.
The letter ended up tucked into a German novel found in early 2015 in the attic of a French house, and thanks to Clark’s efforts it was to be sent to family in Independence.
But some people on this end still wondered: What became of James Morgan? Did he make it through the war? He seemed to have disappeared.
People checked local high school records. No good. The Midwest Genealogy Center had some information, but when The Examiner wrote about it in March 2015, there were still more questions than answers.
Topi saw that article and set out to find more. A veteran himself, he wanted to know if Morgan should be listed on the city’s memorial to veterans.
“So I got really interested in it and wanted to find a solution to the story,” he said.
He got help from Cynthia Horn at the historical center in Sugar Creek, who tracked down the key information. Morgan had entered the Army at age 19 in October 1939 – and was discharged June 1, 1946. He had in fact served through the entire war and had come home.
But there’s a sad coda. Morgan was living in Kansas City, going to college on the G.I. Bill, as millions did after the war. He was driving to class on Nov. 24, 1947, when he was struck by another driver at 55th and Oak. His Jeep was overturned. He died two days later.
Topi kept looking. Morgan is buried at Mound Grove Cemetery in Independence and Sugar Creek.
“No longer missing!” he wrote recently in an account of his search and success.
It’s important to have followed through, he said, as “an honor to a veteran.”