They called him Dickie.
He grew up in Brookline with many friends, as well as parents and brothers who loved him dearly. He studied engineering at Northeastern and enlisted to serve in World War II, and his disappearance during a combat mission in 1945 devastated his family.
He remained missing for decades, and his parents and siblings died without ever receiving word on the whereabouts of their loved one, Army Air Forces Second Lieutenant Richard M. Horwitz, who was 22 when his plane was shot down during a bombing mission over Italy.
Then in June, the call came.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, an arm of the Defense Department, had positively identified Horwitz’s remains, which a diver first spotted in August 2013 in waters off the coast of Gardo, Italy, according to the government and Horwitz’s cousin, Joyce Bahn Schwartz of Canton.
She said Thursday in a phone interview her family was saddened that Horwitz’s parents, Lillian and Benjamin, and his brothers, Albert and Lenny, never received the information they had desperately sought.
“But that’s the only sadness,” Bahn Schwartz said. “We’re relieved, and we’re happy that he’s finally going to be home.”
She said her cousin’s remains arrived Wednesday at Logan International Airport with an honor guard. He’ll be laid to rest Sunday at a family plot in West Roxbury.
“It’s the missing, the longing for him to come home that was really overwhelming,” Bahn Schwartz said. “He had lots of friends, and people really liked him. He was a very charming person.” She added that “the impact on the family was so great. His older brother and younger brother never married, that’s how bad the impact was. . . . They would have been so relieved to have him back. It was kind of like a worry that you just carried around with you. I know that it bothered my aunt and uncle terribly, and it was almost ever-present. There was a sadness that they walked around with.”
In a statement, the Defense Department said Horwitz, a member of the 716th Bomber Squadron, 449th Bombardment Group, and 10 other airmen assigned to a B-24J Liberator aircraft left Grottaglie Army Air Base in Italy on Feb. 28, 1945, for a mission.
Their target was the Isarco-Albes railroad bridge in northern Italy, which the Nazis used to move personnel and equipment out of the country, the statement said. “Following the bombing run, participating aircraft headed in the direction of their rally point, where the planes would reform and return to their originating base,” the release said. “When leaving the Isarco-Albes area, an aircraft was seen heading in the direction of the rally point, but skimmed the mountain tops with at least two damaged engines. The plane was last seen near Lake Wiezen in Austria. No parachutes were seen exiting the aircraft. Based on this information, Horwitz was reported missing in action.”
Five of the 11 crewmembers were recovered and identified in the years following the ill-fated mission, but Horwitz remained unaccounted for until August 2013, when a diver reported the possible discovery of remains in an underwater aircraft wreck site in waters off Gardo, the statement said.
Then, a painstaking process led to military officials finally identifying Horwitz’s remains earlier this year with tools including DNA, dental, and anthropological analysis, as well as historical evidence, the military said. The statement said the accounting agency is “grateful to the Italian government for their assistance in this recovery” and noted nearly 73,000 servicemembers who went missing during World War II remain unaccounted for.
Bahn Schwartz urged their families not to give up hope.
“I want them to understand there’s still a chance,” she said. “We never thought it would happen for us, and it did.”Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.