KITTANNING, Pa. — Air Force Staff Sgt. James Herbert Ray will get a military burial in his hometown of Worthington on Saturday — 62 years after his death in a plane crash in Alaska.
Ray was 36 when the C-124 Globemaster plane went down on a glacier with 35 other servicemen near Anchorage on Nov. 22, 1952. All of the servicemen were listed as missing until the Department of Defense in June announced that remains of 17 of the victims had been recovered and identified at the crash site.
Ray returned home on Thursday in a silver hearse led by several police cars and a Worthington fire truck with sirens wailing. About a dozen of his family members — flanked by a small group of veterans armed with flags — lined Bear Street in front of the F. Duane Snyder Funeral Home as the procession arrived.
“He's home,” said his brother, Richard of Indiana. “Whatever is left of him is finally home. I feel comfort knowing he will be laid to rest at home.”
Ray's only daughter, Jaime Ray Swift, of Pensacola, Fla., got out of a silver sedan just in time to see funeral directors opening the hearse. She had escorted her father from Honolulu — where he had been identified — to Worthington.
The family watched in silence, except for a few quiet sobs, as several state troopers and an Air Force representative lifted Ray's casket, draped in an American flag, out of the hearse and carried it into the funeral home, where viewing will take place Saturday morning.
The military burial after the viewing will include a 21-gun salute and tribute to Ray from the Andrews Air Force Base Honor Guard from Washington, D.C., and the Armstrong Honor Guard.
“It's been a long wait for a lot of people, but he's finally home, where he deserves to be,” Swift said. “He's with his family ... where he belongs.”
Swift never met her father — he died three months before she was born.
“I've been crying every day for two months. I'm surprised I have any tears left,” Swift said. “It's all well worth it, because it's brought closure to so many people who loved him.”
Ray's nephew, Daryl, who said his uncle was known as “Herb” to family members, agreed.
“We just wanted to know what really happened to that plane. We always wondered if they'd ever find it,” he said.
“Now we know. And as bittersweet as this all is, we're glad Herb is home.”
Ray will be buried near his parents, James Sr. and Mary, in Worthington United Presbyterian Cemetery. That's something his brother never believed he'd see happen.
“Those 62 years were so long that I didn't really have too much hope,” he said. “It was a foregone conclusion nothing would happen until — bingo — they tell you they found him. I tried to wrap my head around it, and I still haven't.”