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Soldier's body brought home for burial almost 62 years after his death

Staff Sgt. James H. Ray, Jr.'s body was recovered and returned to his family almost 62 years after his plane crashes into an Alaskan mountain.
Staff Sgt. James H. Ray, Jr.'s body was recovered and returned to his family almost 62 years after his plane crashes into an Alaskan mountain.
Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, July 5, 2014 the remains of Staff Sgt. James H. Ray, Jr. was finally returned to his family for burial in Worthington, PA after being entombed below glacial ice in Alaska since Nov. 22, 1952.

The story of his life and death was told in part at his funeral over the Independence Day weekend by his brother Richard and Reverend David Croyle, who officiated the full military honors funeral service, according to the Kittanning Paper in Pennsylvania.

One of the people who grew up during the prohibition and Great Depression, Richard said his brother James struggled to find work during that period of time, much like the rest of the country. And despite finally being able to attend a machinist school in Pittsburgh after all his odd jobs, Staff Sgt. James Herbert Ray, Jr. still struggled to find that type of work until 1939, when he was finally hired by Cooper Bessemer Company in Grove City.

But Uncle Sam would call upon him to serve his country days after Pearl Harbor was bombed, drafting him into the Army in February 1942, and assigning him to the Army Air Corp, which later became known as the U.S. Air Force. Upon completing that tour of duty, Staff Sgt. Ray returned to civilian life and his job as a machinist, according to his obituary. But he would re-enlist in 1947 and be sent to Mobile, Ala., where he met his future wife Eva Hare, and whom he would marry in 1952--and who would be pregnant with his only child at the time of his death.

When Staff Sgt. Ray returned to military service he worked as part of the Berlin Air Lift for the Air Force. And he had a lot of successful flights before his fatal one on the night of Nov. 22 in 1952, when he, along with 52 other passengers would crash into an Alaskan mountain and be buried beneath the ice resulting from the avalanche triggered after the USAF C-124 Globemaster plane went down.

Interestingly, the discovery of Staff Sgt. James Ray's body was only due to the melting glacial ice that occurred in 2012. A passing Blackhawk helicopter on a training mission was finally able to see the downed plane, according to his obituary, which led to the military also locating some of the missing passengers' bodies. The remains found were identified through DNA.

Now, almost 62 years since he was first shrouded in that icy glacier tomb, his family has at least some measure of closure after his death, as his body has been returned to them for burial. And they have enlisted the support of the F. Duane Snyder Funeral Home in Worthington for assistance.

The family, the soldier's daughter Jamie Swift in particular, could not say enough positive things about how respectful and attentive everyone has been during the move to get the soldier's remains back home, with each entity involved showing constant care to display honor as his casket was moved from one location to another.

Unfortunately, Staff Sgt. James H. Ray, Jr.'s wife Eva, both his parents, three of his sisters--Bernice, Elsie and Sara, as well as three of his brothers: Adam, Wilbur, and William--did not live to see this day. But the soldier was survived by his only child, daughter Jamie Swift, who was born after his death, and four of his seven brothers: Richard, who spoke at his funeral, and Donald, George and Perry. So he did have family to come home to after his body was finally recovered nearly 62 years after his death.

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