STEVENSVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a homecoming 73 years in the making: The remains of a West Michigan man who died when his plane crashed during World War II have been found and will be returned to his family Thursday.
The emotions for Albert Rybarczyk’s family are indescribable. His remains will return home on Dec. 7, the same date Pearl Harbor was bombed, drawing the U.S. in to the war that killed him.
“When we were growing up, it wasn’t talked about a lot by my grandmother or my aunt or my mom because I think it was too hard for them,” Rybarczyk’s niece, Cindy Gray, said.
Gray hadn’t yet been born when her uncle was killed in September 1944. He was a Navy aviation radioman fighting in World War II who died when his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
“(The plane) was going in for a bombing mission ammunition dump and it went in and released the bomb and it exploded up into them,” Gray explained.
Rybarczyk and a second crew member were caught in the plane. The pilot parachuted out, but was killed on shore.
This summer, the Department of Defense Accounting Agency was able to identify Rybarczyk and notify his family, giving them the opportunity to say a proper goodbye.
The family only has one photo of Rybarczyk, who was 22 years old when he died.
“Because he was so young and we didn’t have photos back then,” Gray said.
Now, they will be able to watch him come home.
“The realization that, oh my gosh, its tomorrow. We’re going to bring him home tomorrow,” Gray said.
That’s thanks to a group called Project Recover. The group used robotics and a dive team to locate the plane 100 feet underwater near the Palawan islands in the Philippines.
When 24 Hour News 8 asked if Gray family ever thought that Rybarczyk’s body would be found, she replied, “No, never. It’s still unreal.”
There will be a military and police escort from Gerald R. Ford International Airport to the funeral home in St. Joseph. A funeral will be held on Monday at St. Joseph Catholic Church.
“It’s something I don’t think my family, my kids, or any of my friends in the community will forget,” Gray said.
Rybarczyk is one of more than 75,000 World War II servicemembers still listed as missing, according to estimates from the Project Recover.