Long-lost WWII airman to get hero’s burial in NJ hometown this Memorial Day
nj.com May 28, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — A 21-year-old airman from Metuchen, N.J., whose remains were identified nearly 80 years after his death will finally be laid to rest in his hometown this Memorial Day.
Metuchen’s Memorial Day parade will be dedicated to Staff Sgt. Michael Uhrin, who was declared missing in October 1943 after his plane was shot down by enemy fighters in Germany during World War II, according to military records.
Uhrin’s nephew, Michael Joseph Uchrin, will serve as a grand marshal in the parade.
“The way everybody has worked together to make this happen, I’m just so happy — it’s unbelievable,” said 78-year-old Uchrin (who spells his last name slightly differently than his late uncle). “I’m overwhelmed with joy.”
Long-thought unrecoverable, Uhrin’s remains were successfully identified by researchers with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in 2022, to the astonishment of his surviving family and his hometown.
Uhrin’s body was scheduled to arrive at Newark airport Friday with plane-side honors before being escorted to Costello-Runyon Funeral home in Metuchen, the family said.
There will be a public service for Uhrin at the end of Monday’s parade at Memorial Park in Metuchen. Then, his remains will be will be interred a little more than a mile away at Metuchen’s Hillside Cemetery in a private ceremony with military honors.
“He’ll be buried near his parents,” Uchrin said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Uhrin was killed during one of the darkest days for U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. He was assigned to the 369th Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bombardment Group, 40th Combat Wing, 8th Air Force in the European Theater in October 1943, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Uhrin was serving as the radio operator in a B-17F Flying Fortress bomber on a mission to Schweinfurt, Germany, on Oct. 14, 1943, officials said. His plane was shot down by enemy fighters near Rommelhausen and Langenbergheim, Hessen — about an hour outside of Frankfurt.
Tragically, he was just one day short of being discharged.
Uhrin was one of many young men whose lives were cut short that day. Oct. 14, 1943, would later go down in infamy as “Black Thursday,” one of the bloodiest days for the U.S Army Air Forces in World War II.
Of the 291 bombers that departed on the mission to Schweinfurt that day, 60 were shot down, resulting in about 600 airmen killed, wounded or lost over enemy territory, according to military records from the National World War II Museum.
Following the end of the war, the American Graves Registration Command was tasked with investigating and recovering missing American personnel in Europe. They conducted investigations in the area where Uhrin’s plane reportedly went down, but couldn’t find any concrete evidence associating recovered remains with the lost airman.
Uhrin’s parents and five siblings — George, John, Mary, Helen, and Anna — would go the rest of their lives without closure.
Meanwhile, the military has been working to keep its promise of bringing the fallen back to their families.
Military historians have been conducting ongoing research focused on air losses over Germany. As a result, one set of remains, designated X-1660 St. Avold, was determined to be a strong candidate for association with Uhrin, military officials said.
That’s what prompted officials to contact Uhrin’s nephew in 2021 for a DNA sample. That sample led to long-overdue closure for the family, 79 years after the airman’s death.
“We never thought we could find his body,” Uchrin said previously. “I thank them so much for their service.”
Uchrin’s daughter, Nicole, was floored when she received a call from her father saying the remains of her great-uncle were located and coming home.
Growing up, Nicole said her family didn’t talk much about their long-lost uncle.
“They just said they looked at him as a war hero and the family held him in very high regard, and that it was just such a shame that he had never come home. And that’s all that was said about it,” she said.
Nicole, who lives in Cream Ridge, said she was heartened to learn the military never forgot her uncle.
“It’s truly amazing that it is ‘no man left behind’ and they are handling this as if it happened yesterday,” she said. “We’re very grateful.”
The Metuchen Memorial Day parade and events in honor of Sgt. Michael Uhrin begin at 10 a.m., according to borough officials.
“I think it’s a surreal moment for the community,” said Mayor Jonathan Busch. “It’s more and more difficult for our community leaders to get the point of sacrifice across today and so, in many ways, we hope this will help people understand just how much sacrifice there was by so many in our community.”
Monday’s event in honor of Uhrin will help reenforce the importance of what Memorial Day is supposed to mean, the mayor said.
“Before people return to their barbecues and their parties and their beach trips, they can think about the fact that this is a day, that although it’s come to signify the opening of summer, it really signifies something far more meaningful to all of us,” Busch said.
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