The remains of a U.S. Air Force pilot who died while serving in the Vietnam War were personally flown home by the man’s son — 52 years after the two saw each other for the last time.
Col. Roy A. Knight, Jr. was shot down on May 19, 1967, as he led an airstrike in northern Laos. He was declared dead in September 1974 after search and rescue efforts failed.
His remains landed at Dallas Love Field Airport on Thursday afternoon, the same airfield where he said goodbye to his 5-year-old son Bryan more than 50 years ago.
It was Bryan Knight, now a captain with Southwest Airlines, who flew his father home.
Knight enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1948, just after his 17th birthday, following in the footsteps of his five older brothers, according to his obituary. He was accepted for pilot training at Laredo in 1957 and served as a fighter pilot in Germany and France before returning to Texas as an instructor a few years later.
Knight received his orders to go to war in 1966 and was deployed to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, where he flew daily combat missions.
On his mission in Laos, Knight was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The plane burst into flames and U.S. authorities were unable to retrieve it in the hostile territory, according to The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
The site of Knight’s crash was first excavated in 1994 and revisited several time over the years. Human remains were found in January and February this year while a joint U.S./Lao People’s Democratic Republic team were working on the area.
DPAA scientists were able to identify the body as Knight using old dental records.
Knight’s eldest son, Roy Knight III, told reporters Thursday at Dallas Love Field that his father’s return was a day the family thought would never happen.
“And the fact that it did is just remarkable, it’s actually miraculous,” he said. “There’s a lot to this, there’s competing emotions, not only because he’s coming home … which is a good thing, it is a very good thing, but there’s also the aspect that we’re reliving the loss.”
The colonel, who was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and six Air Medals, will be buried on Saturday in Weatherford, Texas.