Missing airplanes: How "not knowing" can bring a lifetime of pain

Staff Sergeant Larry Grasha and a file image of a B-24 Liberator bomber. Grasha's B-24 plane and its eight crew disappeared in 1944.

Story highlights

  • Peter Boczar's uncle's plane disappeared in 1944
  • Despite decades of research, uncle's flight remains unsolved mystery
  • Boczar: A missing loved one feeds a lifetime of painful wondering

I am no stranger to missing airplanes and the emotional impact they can have.

The daily torment the families and friends of passengers and crew on Malaysian Airlines MH370 are experiencing as they wait for news is obviously excruciating.

Unfortunately, until there is an adequate conclusion to what happened to the Boeing 777 -- and the people on it -- they could face a lifetime of hurt.

In 1944, my uncle, Larry Grasha, was among a crew of eight flying in a B-24 bomber from the United States to North Africa to join the war effort in Europe. They never made it. Sixty years on, the mystery as to what happened is no closer to being solved.

I hadn't yet been born, so I never met my uncle. I only knew him through his mother — my grandmother Mary -- and some of the letters he sent home.

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Although it is now 2014, I still feel the lifetime of grief, unfulfilled hope and guilt it bore on my family.

I write that I only got to "know" him a bit through my grandmother because to this day, my mother, his sister, can't talk about it. My mother is now over 90 years old.

Unfortunately, the family was not at home that day in 1944 when he called to tell them he was leaving for Europe. I later sensed there was some burdensome guilt for not being able to say "Goodbye" or "I love you" -- or even a throwaway "Give 'em hell!"

'They never found him'

I first "met" Larry when I was six years old. My grandmother showed me his picture, telling me, "They never found him you know." These words I would hear over and over again throughout my life.

The aircraft left the United States in March 1944. Somewhere between Trinidad and Suriname, the crew radioed they was on course and everything was fine. But the plane never showed up. It was only 60 miles offshore at the time it vanished and heading toward the coast, flying over less than 100 feet of water.

The love I had for my grandmother made it my mission later in life to find out what happened.

Over the years, I spent a lot of time and personal resources researching this event. This included several grueling trips to the South American jungle -- during some from which I did not think I would return. All this effort unfortunately yielded no conclusion.

My grandmother passed away in 1998, still hoping her son would show up one day.

Her last words to me were: "If you find him, you tell him to come home. I don't care if he's crippled and embarrassed to come home. You tell him I love him. You tell him that I'm his mother and that I will take care of him because that's what a mother's supposed to do."

A lifetime searching

In the course of my research, I stumbled across my uncle's sweetheart from 1943. She was living in Boston and dying of cancer. I immediately flew to Boston to meet her. That was just a few years ago.

She also hoped Larry would return one day and was still clinging to pictures of them taken when they were in high school. I accidentally found her on their school webpage where she posted herself so he could find her -- just in case. Sadly, she passed away a short time after we met.

At about the same time, the niece of the B-24's pilot found me online. She had also spent a lifetime searching for her uncle or for answers. She immediately contacted me after the MH370 news broke.

There's something about the pain of not knowing.

The loss of a loved one in any circumstance causes much hurt and grief.

However, the difference is that a missing loved one also feeds a lifetime of painful wondering. Where? Why? How? What? -- together with the hope these questions might be one day answered.

Why does a missing loved one cause this?

Peter Boczar during one of his trips to South America.

I do not know. It just does.

I pray the families of Malaysian Airlines MH370 get a conclusion, for better or worse, so the rest of their lives are not haunted by not knowing.

It will also be a personal comfort and emotional victory for the many of us who still get teary-eyed and choke up when thinking about our own missing loved ones.

Even with the announcement on Monday the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean, until bodies are located relatives of the passengers will still hold out hope. We recently heard of the incredible survival-at-sea story by a sailor who lasted for months on a small boat.

My uncle's sweetheart never gave up hope. Nor did my grandmother.

Maybe, they initially felt that by giving up hope, they would give up their love for Larry.

They held on to every clue and every hint he survived. One year after the B-24 was reported missing, she claimed she received a letter from the Red Cross indicating there was a mayday call from the plane. This indicated it was crashing into the jungle. It was discovered that all radio transcriptions in official military files were missing and this raised more questions and theories -- conspiratorial and otherwise.

So, out of empathy and respect for the families and friends of the passengers and crew of MH370, I will continue to hold out hope that at least one person made it. And that all find a conclusion to this horrible tragedy.

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