When Melvin Rector traveled to the U.K. earlier this month, it was a trip long overdue for the retired U.S. Army Air Corps veteran.
A World War II veteran, Rector server as a radio operator and gunner on a B-17 “Flying Fortress,” and he was stationed at Britain’s RAF Snetterton Heath.
Rector had always dreamed of visiting the U.K. again.
After a more than 70-year absence and careful planning, the 94-year-old flew to London at the beginning of the month.
But sadly, before getting the chance to visit his former base, Rector died following a visit to the Battle of Britain Bunker in Uxbridge.
Susan Jowers, 60, who accompanied Rector on his trip, said she had acted as his guardian during a 2011 Honor Flight for veterans to Washington D.C.
“Since then we became like father and daughter,” Jowers told Florida Today.
Rector emerged from the bunker and told her that he was feeling dizzy, Jowers said. She held one arm as a stranger held the other, and Rector silently passed away.
Despite being far from home and not expecting more than a handful of people to attend his funeral, once word spread about Rector’s identity and his trip back to the U.K., a fitting ceremony took place that included members of the R.A.F., the U.S. Air Force and historians in the West London town of Ruislip.
His daughter Sandy Vavruich of Gloversville, NY says she’s been heartened by the crowd who showed up for her father’s funeral.
“You go to a foreign country and they have the love and (they) honor a veteran,” she told Florida Today, adding that her father “couldn’t have asked for a better way to go.”
Rector’s body was repatriated Tuesday, and his funeral will be held June 9 at First Baptist Church of Barefoot Bay, Florida.