After over 70 years had passed without revisiting the country that he fought in during World War II, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Melvin Rector was finally able to see Britain again.
Thanks to a travel program with National World War II Museum in New Orleans where people can visit sites of the war, Rector was able to return to Britain in hopes of revisiting the Royal Air Force station Snetterton Heath, in Norfolk.
During his service in World War II, Rector was a gunner for B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and a radio operator for the 96th Bomb Group. He served as a gunner for the “Memphis Belle” which was the first heavy bomber to complete its tour while having all of its crew intact.
Films were even created to show the importance of the Flying Fortress bomber. Rector was eager to return to the place that he served out of.
“He planned it for like the last six months,” Darlene O’Donnell, Rector’s stepdaughter, told Florida Today. “He couldn’t wait to go.”
On the first day of his arrival, Rector visited the site of Battle of Britain Bunker where fighter airplanes were directed during D-Day. “He walked out of that bunker like his tour was done,” said Jowers, who met Rector when she served as his guardian during a 2011 Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C.
After walking out of the Bunker, he told Jowers that he was dizzy. Jowers grabbed his arm and a stranger grabbed the other one.
Rector died quietly right outside the bunker.
Despite never seeing the Royal Air Force station Snetterton Heath, Rector’s daughter, Sandy Vavruich told Florida Today, “He couldn’t have asked for a better way to go,” she said. “It was quick and painless. He had just gotten to see two planes and he passed away between them.”
Originally, a small funeral service was planned, but it did not stay that way. Word spread to British and American armed forces.
The Royal Air Force, the U.S. Air Force and others attended the funeral and give Rector military honors. A flag was donated by the U.S. embassy to drape over his coffin.
U.S. Army Maj. Leif Purcell told ITV London News, “I was expecting just to see myself and maybe two or three other U.S. service members and a priest, and that was it. So it was very delightful to see.”
“He certainly got a beautiful send-off,” Jowers told Florida Today. A funeral service for Rector is set for June 9th, at 11 a.m at First Baptist Church in Barefoot Bay, Florida.
“He completed his final mission.” Jowers said.