In this June 25, 2012, photo, a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command recovery team works at the site where C-124 aircraft wreckage was found on Colony Glacier, Alaska. (Jamie Dobson/Army via The Associated Press)
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PITTSBURGH — After 62 years, an airman from Worthington is coming home.
The Department of Defense announced on Wednesday that it had recovered and identified the body of Air Force Staff Sgt. James Ray and 16 others who died in a C-124 Globemaster plane crash in Alaska on Nov. 22, 1952. A search continues for 35 other servicemen who were aboard the flight.
Ray’s only daughter, Jaime Ray Swift, never met her father, since his plane crashed three months before she was born. Though her family is from Worthington, Swift was born in Mobile, Ala., after her father went missing.
“I’m in total shock and disbelief,” Swift said on Wednesday from her home in Pensacola, Fla. “I just can’t believe they were able to find him after all these years.”
Ray, who was 36 when he died, had 13 siblings, including Richard Ray, 81, of Indiana. His brother said Ray went to school in a one-room schoolhouse in Worthington through the eighth grade, when he left to go work in a coal mine at age 13.
Eventually, he went on to learn to become a machinist in Pittsburgh and worked at the Cooper Bessemer Factory in Grove City, before being drafted into the Army Air Force in 1942.
In the Air Force, Ray worked in the Air Transport Command, which delivered cargo throughout Europe. After his first tour ended in 1947, Ray reenlisted and was stationed at the Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile, Ala., where he met his wife, Eva Hare Ray, his brother said.
Swift said she doesn’t know much about her father. She said her mother rarely spoke of him, since they had divorced shortly before he went missing.
“She was always just so sad because she was just so devastated by him going missing,” Swift said. “She never, ever, ever talked about him, and never remarried.”
The plane went down on Ray’s first trip to the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage.
“During that trip, he was going to look for living quarters for his wife and Jamie,” Richard said. “I’m just in shock they found him — I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see them bring my brother home.”
The family plans to bring Ray’s remains home for funeral services at Snyder-Crissman Funeral Home, Worthington. Burial will take place in a July 5 ceremony at the Worthington United Presbyterian Cemetery.
Ray died when his plane crashed on its way to Elmendorf Air Force Base. The search for the wreck was delayed in 1952 by bad weather and ultimately turned up none of the bodies of the dead servicemen on board.
The search for the missing plane picked up steam again in 2000, when Tampa Bay resident Tonja Anderson-Dell attempted to get a flag for her grandmother, Dorothy Anderson, in memory of her grandfather, Airman Isaac Anderson, who also died in the crash.
She wrote her congressmen and senators for information about the plane crash and recovery efforts and dedicated a large part of her life to finding her grandfather’s remains.
“I got a copy of the accident report and thought, if there’s enough time, energy and money, anything is feasible,” Anderson-Dell said from her home. “I believe you should never leave the fallen behind.”
The report said military officials flew over the site and were unable to find any evidence of the crash. She continued to pressure elected officials to keep looking for the plane, she said.
In June 2012, an Alaska National Guard Black Hawk helicopter spotted the plane’s wreckage during a training mission over the Colony Glacier near Mt. Gannett, and a recovery mission operation began. It took two years of DNA testing remains before the 17 servicemen were identified. Anderson-Dell’s grandfather was not among those found. Air Force First Lt. William L. Turner, who will be buried in Coudersport, was the only other airman from Pennsylvania whose body has been recovered.
Anderson-Dell said it’s a bittersweet moment knowing the 17 men will be going home, but 35 others remain missing.
“My grandfather is still missing, and maybe God made it this way so I’d continue my fight,” Anderson-Dell said. “I’m pretty sure not all of them will come home, but we have to keep on looking and fighting.”
Swift said that the news her father’s remains had been found was a surreal moment that she’ll never forget.
“I never thought I’d get closure, and now I don’t know I want it,” Swift said. “Growing up, even as an adult, I’d always believed I’d be walking down the street one day, and he’d just be there.
“Now I know he won’t be.”