SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Jeanette Miller was just about six years old when two soldiers arrived at her South Plainfield home to deliver the telegram informing her grandparents that their son, her uncle, Paul Cybowski, had been killed in World War II. He was just a week shy of his 26th birthday.
“I remember my grandmother crying before he left and telling him in Polish to stay home...It was like she had an intuition [but] he was feisty and ready to go,” Miller told TAPinto South Plainfield.
Cybowski, a United States Army staff sergeant assigned as a tail gunner with the 373rd Bombardment Squadron, 308th Bombardment Group, was killed on Sept. 15, 1943 when Japanese fighter planes shot down his aircraft in Hai Phong, French Indochina (now known as Vietnam). Although he was presumed dead, the veteran’s remains were never identified and, for more than seven decades, he was declared missing in action, his body first laid to rest in the Philippines and then Europe before being relocated to Hawaii.
Last summer, however, forensic tests were conducted and Cybowski’s remains were identified. His family was notified this past July and earlier this week – a little over 76 years since he went missing – Cybowski returned home.
On Monday, Cybowski received an official military escort from Newark Airport back to South Plainfield and the following evening community members stopped by the South Plainfield Funeral Home to pay their respects. Residents were in attendance as were members of the borough’s American Legion Chaumont Post 243 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6763 who held a small memorial service in their fallen brother’s honor.
On the morning of Wednesday, residents and local leaders along with military personnel and members of veterans’ and fraternal organizations from across the state gathered at the funeral home for a prayer service led by Rev. Peter Tran of Our Lady of Czestochowa followed by a graveside service with full military honors. at Holy Redeemer Cemetery.
“We came from all over to honor our fallen brother who finally came home,” said John Dunne, County Commander of the American Legion – Hudson County. “As veterans, even though we didn't personally know this hero, we honor his sacrifice and his memory.”
"The moment I heard about him, I knew I wanted to be a part of this," said Allain Batong, a First Class Sergeant with the New Jersey Army National Guard and member of the Honor Guard who led Wednesday’s service and was also among the military members at Newark Airport. "Our team of soldiers was there to welcome him home."
At 81, Miller is Cybowksi’s oldest living relative and was faced with the decision of whether to bury her uncle at Arlington National Cemetery or in his hometown. “He is a hero, but he is a hero first to his mother and father who lived here,” Miller, who currently resides in Sugar Run, PA, of why she chose the South Plainfield cemetery as her uncle's final resting place, just rows away from his parents.
“It was a hard decision…but I feel so strong that he belonged back home in his backyard with his friends and his family. We hope he is just as happy to be home as we are for him to be here. I hope that now he can rest a little easier.”
“I could not believe they found him, but I was very happy that he is now home where he belongs,” said Greta Popolillo, who traveled to New Jersey from Tennessee to honor her late husband’s uncle. “My husband always talked about him. Although he was just a young child, he remembered him very well.”
“People have offered their condolences but...we are happy that they found him and that he is home,” said Carolyn Whittemore of Marlboro, NJ, adding that although she never got to meet her late uncle she knows ‘the family has waited so long for this.’
“It is wonderful to have one of South Plainfield’s heroes back home for his final resting place. We think it brings a lot of closure to the family and we are happy for them,” said Mayor Matt Anesh, adding, “The family has mentioned that it is not a time of sorrow, it is a time of joy to see him home, resting here in South Plainfield where he belongs.”
Cybowski was credited for courageously firing at the enemy as the plane made its tragic landing and, in honor of his efforts, was posthumously awarded both the Air Medal and the Purple Heart. Locally, Cybowski Court is named in his honor.
“Hopefully, when people in town drive around and see our veteran-named streets, they realize there are stories behind each one," said Anesh. “These streets are in honor of are real people who have done some really amazing things.”
Following Wednesday's services, family, friends, and veterans from throughout New Jersey gathered back at the American Legion's Oak Tree Avenue post. "We are glad Paul is back home where he belongs and rightfully buried near his family," said Joe Penyak, Sr., commander of Post 243.
“’He’s home’ has been a common comment and many in the family have called it a miracle. You combine those two things together and you have an outcome like this - something the community can take part in and the family can take joy in. I am happy that they have their loved one back after so long and much sacrifice,” added Councilman Derryck White.
To read more about Staff Sergeant Paul Cybowski’s journey home, visit https://www.tapinto.net/towns/south-plainfield/articles/after-more-than-75-years-remains-of-wwii-hero-paul-cybowski-come-home-for-burial.
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