More than half a century ago, Col. Roy A. Knight Jr. suited up for battle and climbed into his fighter jet, the youngest of six boys. The fresh-faced U.S. Air Force pilot was headed off to the Vietnam War at just 17 years old.
He had enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1948 and was accepted for pilot training at Laredo in 1957 then served as a fighter pilot in Germany and France before returning to Texas to instruct future pilots. Knight Jr. was deployed in 1966 to Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base and engaged in daily combat.
But his young family, including his five-year-old son Bryan, were never far from his mind. Sadly, the pilot was shot down May 19, 1967, while engaged in an airstrike in northern Laos.
His plane burst into flames and the government could not retrieve it.
Search and rescue teams were called out to locate him, but Knight Jr. could not be found and saved. According to his obituary, he was initially listed as Missing in Action until being declared Killed in Action in 1974. His family was devastated.
The site of his crash was first excavated in 1994 and investigated several times afterward. Earlier this year, human remains were finally found while a joint U.S./Lao People’s Democratic Republic team were working on the area.
Almost 10 years passed before the pilot was finally declared deceased, leaving behind a worried family who had been waiting years for any word about their loved one. By using old dental records, scientists were able to identify the remains found as that of Roy A. Knight Jr.
Flying runs in the family’s blood, because that little five-year-old boy named Bryan grew up to become a pilot just like his dad, except he became a commercial pilot.
When the family was notified that Knight Jr.’s remains had been identified after all these years, Bryan suited up and boarded the Southwest Airlines plane to personally fly his father home.
Finally, after decades had passed, Col. Roy A. Knight Jr. was home. He arrived at Dallas Love Field Airport, the same airport from which he flew out from all those years ago. An airport full of passengers gathered at the windows to watch the long lost hero finally return home.
Knight’s oldest son, Roy Knight III, told the media at the airport that bringing his father home was a day the family never believed would happen.
“And the fact that it did is just remarkable, it’s actually miraculous. 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.”
Southwest said in a statement to NBC News that Knight received with full military honors at the airport to “express a nation’s thanks” for his service to the country.
“Our Southwest Airlines family is honored to support his long-hoped homecoming and join in tribute to Col. Knight as well as every other military hero who has paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the armed forces.”
Knight was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and six Air Medals. One gentleman shared images of the procession. On his Twitter thread, Roni Edenfield shared a remarkable photo, too.
It turned out that Edenfield had a POW bracelet as a child with Knight’s name on it.
“I am reading and blessed by the amazing outpouring of respect and patriotism. I also realized that this name seems familiar to me and it occurred to me that I knew this name. I wore his POW bracelet when I was a child. I would like to mail to his family. I am now crying.”
Even though the ending was not what the family wanted, finally their loved one was home.
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Source: NBC News