CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Delta Flight 751 made its way slowly along the tarmac at the Gerald R Ford International Airport just after noon Thursday as the family of Albert “Bud” Rybarczyk braved the icy winds, holding on to each other for warmth and support.
A military escort removed the casket from the belly of the plane.
Navy Reserve Aviation Radioman 2nd Class Albert P. Rybarczyk was home.
“It’s finally real to us. It’s unbelievable. It’s a miracle,” Rybarczyk’s niece, Cindy Gray, said.
Several dates on the calendar led up to that miracle.
Sept. 8, 1944: The day 22-year-old Rybarczyk’s plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean near the Philippines while on a bombing run.
Aug. 16, 2017: The day his family learned his remains had been found.
And Dec. 7.
“When we found out that he was coming in on Pearl Harbor Day and coming from Pearl Harbor, I mean, what more perfect day for him to come home?” Gray said.
Rybarczyk, who was from Stevensville, died before Gray was born. She knew little about him, except for the pain his loss caused the family.
“There wasn’t many stories, because the family didn’t talk about him much when I was growing up. All they talked about was remembering the day they came to tell him he was missing,” Gray said.
Then came that day in August when Project Recover, an organization that combines historical research and modern technology to help find the remains of lost servicemembers, informed the family Rybarczyk was coming home.
“We just cannot thank them enough,” Gray said. “You can see the emotion when they find the guys.”
So on Pearl Harbor Day, 73 years after he went missing, Rybarczyk’s flag-draped coffin was taken off Delta Flight 751.
Rybarczyk’s 87-year-old sister was among the family members waiting as he was finally returned home.
“She said it was very unreal to her that after all this time,” Gray said. “And that it was a miracle, a true miracle for her, and it would be closure.”
There’s one more date that plays a role in this family’s miracle: Dec. 25.
“My aunt said one of their favorite songs was ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas,'” Gray said. “And he’s home.”
Funeral services are set for Monday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Joseph.