PROVO, Utah (ABC4) — After 78 years, a World War II airman from Provo is finally home.

The plane carrying U.S. Army Air Forces Cpl. Merle L. Pickup’s remains arrived at the Salt Lake City Airport around 3:40 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15. Around 50 people were in attendance to welcome him home.

“I think it was a wonderful moment to see his remains come off the plane,” said Ray David Pickup, Merle’s nephew. “It strengthened my gratitude for the family that I belong to.”

U.S. Army Air Forces Cpl. Merle L. Pickup (Courtesy of DPAA)

Merle was accounted for by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing In Action Accounting Agency on July 20, 2022. In May 1944, he boarded a B-24J Liberator bomber set to complete a ferrying mission from China to Assam, India. Unfortunately, the plane never made it to its destination as it crashed in the Himalayas.

“My mother, after her brother was lost, wouldn’t go to war movies anymore,” said Colleen McConkie Beesley, Merle’s niece.

After the war, the American Graves Registration Service determined that the crash site was too dangerous to reach, and the remains of the crew, including Merle, were declared non-recoverable.

Fast forward to 2019, Abor Country, a North East India travel company, managed to reach the site and recover possible human remains. The evidence was then repatriated to the U.S. last March after getting significantly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists from DPAA were able to use dental and anthropological analysis as well as material and circumstantial evidence to identify Merle’s remains in July 2022.

“It’s a great honor,” said Sgt. Shawn Robison from the Utah Army National Guard. “It just goes to show that the Department of Defense does not leave our people behind. It may take a while, but we do try and keep that faith to bring everybody home.”