A 94-year-old veteran finally returned to the place he served in World War II, and died shortly after, in what his loved ones called his “final mission.”
The last time Melvin Rector had seen England, he was a radio operator on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers in 1945.
After 71 years of yearning to return, Rector made the pilgrimage across the pond, from Florida to London, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
The trip took six months of planning, and he arrived on May 6, in London for a tour of the sights and scenes he served in.
He started the visit at the Battle of Britain Bunker, and was hoping to make a stop at his former base, at RAF Snetterton Heath in Norfolk.
But as he walked out, Rector started feeling dizzy.
“He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done,” Susan Jowers, who first met Rector in 2011 as his guardian on a trip to Washington, D.C., told Florida Today.
Rector died quietly right outside the bunker, as he got to see the country he fought to save one last time.
“He completed his final mission,” Jowers said.
Rector flew eight combat missions over Germany in the last years of WWII, and served as a gunner on Memphis Belle, the famed heavy bomber that was later used to boost morale for the U.S. Army, according to the Stars and Stripes.
While his family in the United States was unable to make the trip for his funeral service, Rector received a warm send-off from his brothers in arms from both the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Air Force.
“They just wanted something very simple, and when I found out a little background about Melvin, there was no way that we were just going to give him a simple service,” funeral director Neil Sherry told British ITV. “I wanted it to be as special as possible.”
Rector’s life was celebrated in a room full of people he didn’t know, with military honors.
U.S. Army Maj. Leif Purcell told the British outlet he was surprised to see so many other people there to send off the veteran.
His daughter, Sandy Vavruich, from Gloversville, New York, told reporters Rector died in a peaceful place, doing exactly what he wanted to.
“He couldn’t have asked for a better way to go,” Vavruich said. “It was quick and painless. He had just gotten to see two planes and he passed away between them.”
h/t Daily News