Saturday, December 16, 2017
Perspective

St. Petersburg woman knows the pain of Flight 370 passenger's families (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG

On March 22, 1957, a military transport plane took off from Travis Air Force Base in California with 67 people on board en route to Tokyo.

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, the plane vanished.

An armada of planes and vessels combed the ocean in one of the biggest searches in U.S. Air Force history. No trace of the plane was found. The U.S. government declared all on board dead.

One of the passengers was John E. Bryant, a handsome 19-year-old from a big family in St. Petersburg. His parents and 10 brothers and sisters grieved for him, but could never shake the idea that somehow he was still alive.

Last weekend, Bryant's sister, Jeraldine Rubin, was watching the evening news at her St. Petersburg home when she saw a report on Flight 370, the Malaysian jet that disappeared after takeoff en route to Beijing.

Included in the news footage were some of the families of those on board — people whose terror and grief Rubin knows all too well.

"It just brings everything back," said Rubin, 71, a retired schoolteacher. "It's hard."

The chance that any of the Malaysian passengers are alive is remote. Their families will have to endure that.

But what if the wreckage is never found? That will bring another kind of suffering, Rubin said.

"The biggest hurt I feel is not knowing. Every day you're confronted with what, where? That's great pain," she said. "At least if you knew the plane went down and here's the evidence, you can have at least some closure. But that daily not knowing. … It's frequently in your head: Where's your loved one?"

• • •

Bryant graduated from Gibbs High School in 1956 and joined the Air Force. He wanted to travel and see the world. After that, he planned to become a dentist.

He went to basic training and was assigned to go to Tokyo from California.

Rubin, the youngest of the family of 11 kids, had become close to her brother over the previous few years. She wrote him a letter and intended to send it to Japan after she learned he had landed.

Her mother told her about the plane's disappearance after she walked home from school the afternoon of March 22, 1957. She was 14.

The search for the plane eventually was called off. The family learned nothing about what happened to Bryant.

"No indication of plane, debris, nothing," Rubin said. "That was hard."

The family never had a funeral. Rubin said her mother's strength helped the family, which is very religious, carry on. She never stopped believing there was a chance her son was still alive.

When she died in 2001 at age 87, the family had a large arrangement of roses placed next to her casket. The roses spelled out HOPE — a direct reference to her vanished son and the belief that she would see him again.

"That was the word that was so important to her and us through this whole ordeal and almost daily," Rubin said. "Hope was our message, and we never gave up."

• • •

Rubin has kept a close eye on news about the missing Malaysian flight.

After she saw a list of other lost flights in the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, she called the newspaper to see if it could help her find any new information about the 1957 crash — or her brother.

Even 57 years later, she can't give up.

"Maybe he's out there some place," said Rubin, whose voice quivers to this day when she talks about her brother.

There was no new information — just old newspaper clippings about the crash.

Rubin fears family members of the Malaysian passengers will also suffer through decades of not knowing.

"I feel for those families because what touched me so was of course, having gone through it," she said. "And then having to see their faces and hear their cries."

"Keep hope," she said. "Keep trust in a superior power, and gain strength that way. There's only so much man can do, but if you keep hope and trust in God, you'll make it through it."

Colleen Wright can be reached at [email protected]m or (727) 893-8913. Follow her on Twitter @Colleen_Wright. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

 
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