John Sandini saluted from afar as the flag-draped casket carrying the remains of his brother was escorted off a Delta Airbus a321 by seven U.S. Army honor guards Thursday afternoon at Logan International Airport in Boston.
The 93-year-old who grew up in Marlborough then approached the casket for a reunion that was 75 years in the making.
“I saw the casket and I said, ‘Ma, he’s home,'” Sandini said after the ceremony, known as an honorable transfer. “After all these years, he has come home. My mother seemed to always say, ‘Nah, they are never going to find him.’ I told her the Army never gives up.”
Sandini’s brother, Army Air Force Tech Sgt. Alfred Sandini, was killed in action on Feb. 15, 1944, after the B-25C Mitchell bomber he was aboard during World War II crashed due to enemy fire in the Thanh Hoa Province of French Indochina, now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Alfred Sandini, 25, left behind his parents, Benedetto and Pulcheria, and five brothers and a sister.
Sandini’s body went unidentified for 75 years until the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced in February a positive match using dental, anthropological and DNA analysis, as well as circumstantial and material evidence.
Police, firefighters, military members and Transportation Security Administration agents saluted as the casket arrived in Boston after a flight from Honolulu. The remains were escorted the entire way by Army Sgt. 1st Class David Smith, who is stationed at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu. Upon arrival in Boston, Smith was joined by state and Marlborough police officers and other military officials.
Some 30 miles away, the city of Marlborough prepared to welcome Alfred Sandini home, waving American flags at West Main and Winthrop streets.
Mike Crane, who served overseas with the Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, brought his young nephew, Grayson, to witness the moment.
“I wanted him to show support for a real hero that gave his life for our country,” Crane said. “I know it means the world to them that they are not forgotten. That’s why we came out today to remind them that they are not forgotten.”
Dennis McElhinney of Marlborough, who served in Desert Storm, coordinated with Veterans Services Officer Nicholas Charbonneau to hand out flags to the dozens of people who turned out.
“I’m speechless,” Carbonneau said. “This was a 75-year deployment in a way.”
During the ceremony at Logan, Franciso Urena, the state secretary of the Department of Veteran Services, stood in the distance with his hand over his heart.
“Today, is an opportunity to welcome him home, and he is missing no more,” he said.
Urena said he is grateful for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency mission to make sure no one is left behind.
“This gives hope to many families to say while their loved ones are missing, they could have the opportunity to come home one day,” he said.
The day after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech excoriating the Empire of Japan over the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that led to America’s entry into World War II, Alfred Sandini, then 22, quietly enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force without telling his parents. He didn’t wait for the draft.
He was the eighth man from the city to be killed fighting in the war, according to a March 4, 1944, article in the Marlborough Daily Enterprise.
Three of Alfred’s brothers, including John, also served in the Army or Navy.
“They never recover from it. Even though the rest of us came home safe, all she could think about was the one child left behind,” said John Sandini of his mother and Alfred’s death. “She was devastated.”
John Sandini, who now lives in Florida, couldn’t believe the turnout to honor his brother.
“I’m flabbergasted,” Sandini said. “I’m so pleased with the town I was born and brought up in.”
Visiting hours will take place at the William R. Short and Son Funeral Home, 95 West Main St., on Friday from 3-6 p.m. The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Immaculate Conception Church, 11 Prospect St.
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