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MARLBOROUGH -- The community of Immaculate Conception Parish came together to pay their respects at a funeral on July 20 for a local serviceman who had been missing in action for almost 75 years.
U.S. Army Air Forces Tech. Sgt. Alfred Sandini was one of four brothers from Marlborough who served in the military during World War II. A radio gunner, he died in 1944 at age 25 when the B-25C Mitchell bomber carrying him and five other crew members crashed in French Indochina (present-day Vietnam), most likely due to enemy fire, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
His unidentified remains were originally interned at an American military cemetery in China before being relocated to a military cemetery in Hawaii. In August 2018, forensic investigation began into the remains and Sandini was positively identified in February of this year, the DPAA said.
Sandini's name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for, the DPAA said.
Close to two hundred people attended Sandini's funeral, including many Immaculate Conception parishioners. An honor guard from the Massachusetts Army National Guard carried the casket into the lower church, St. Mary Chapel, as Knights of Columbus and Patriot Guard Riders stood by.
Parish administrator, Father Steven Clemence, celebrated the funeral. In his homily, he spoke of the importance of homecomings, identity, and loving God and each other.
He said that when Sandini's remains were brought to Marlborough, "it was amazing how many people stopped their lives to say 'welcome.' How many people went out of their ways to say 'thank you.'"
"We have siblings alive next to us, identified. Many times we do not say 'thank you.' As people open the door to us and go out of their ways, many times we don't say 'welcome,'" Father Clemence said.
He said Sandini had a tag that was brought home. It said, "I'm Catholic. Please call a priest."
"As a person who identifies himself as a son of God, he is never lost. Even though we may not (have known) where he was all this time, even though we did not know what had happened to him, God knew. And God knows what happens to us every single day. Even in the darkest moments of our lives, even in the lowest moments of our lives, God is always close to us," Father Clemence said.
He encouraged prayers for those still missing and for their families.
Sandini's brother, John Sandini, a 93-year-old Navy veteran, attended the funeral with his family. His son, Christopher, Alfred's nephew, shared a reflection at the end of the Mass.
Christopher Sandini said that his uncle had enlisted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He compared that event to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a national tragedy after which "everybody was unified."
He shared the story of how his father, John, originally had a waiver from the draft board, but somehow managed to get the permission from his mother, Pulcheria Sandini, to enlist. Christopher Sandini said he was "truly proud of my dad for not letting something as silly as permission from his parents stop him."
Christopher Sandini said that John had been home on leave when the telegram with the news of Alfred's death arrived. They knew it was bad news, but since Pulcheria Sandini could not read it, it was up to John, then 20 years old, to tell her which of her sons was missing.
In subsequent years, Christopher Sandini said his grandmother expressed doubt that Alfred would be found, but her family urged her not to give up hope that he would come home.
Turning his eyes upward, Christopher Sandini said, "On behalf of my dad: Grandma, they were right and you were wrong."
Alfred Sandini was buried next to his parents in Immaculate Conception Cemetery with full military honors.
Margie Saez, administrator of religious education at Immaculate Conception Parish, brought a class of Confirmation students to the funeral. They had been attending Mass every day as part of Formation Boot Camp, a weeklong intensive faith formation program for incoming 10th graders.
"It was a really great thing that people not even in his family could come to the service and celebrate with him," said Thomas Hirsch, an incoming 10th grader who attended the funeral.
Saez said the funeral was "a great opportunity for us to share this experience with the family, what they're going through. Welcoming a fellow Catholic back home is a great thing to be a part of today. So I'm just glad that he's home, and that he's resting peacefully, and that the family now has closure."