After 52 years, the remains of Air Force pilot Col. Roy Knight Jr., who was shot down in 1967 during the Vietnam War, have finally come home.
And the plane that carried them, a commercial jet owned by Southwest Airlines, was flown by Knight's son Bryan Knight, a captain with the airline.
The remains arrived Thursday in a flag-draped casket at Dallas Love Field — the same airport where Col. Knight said goodbye to his then-5-year-old son.
"When I first got the call, it was almost surreal," Bryan Knight told Southwest Airlines. "I really didn't think it would ever happen. Wow, you know, he's really coming home. We're going to be able to bring him back, and we're going to have a place where we can honor him."
Roy Knight Jr. was shot down in May 1967 while pursuing a target on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
Military officials say the crash site was searched several times since the 1990s. Remains linked to Knight finally surfaced this year and were identified in June.
Knight's obituary describes him as "a devoted and loving son, brother, husband, father and friend" who was well-liked by those with whom he served. Born in 1931, he graduated high school in 1947 and enlisted in the Air Force days after his 17th birthday. He served as a clerk typist in the Philippines, Japan and Korea before beginning pilot training in 1957. He became a fighter pilot, serving in Germany and France before returning home in 1963 to work as an instructor pilot.
In 1966, Knight received orders to deploy to Southeast Asia. He reported to the 602nd Fighter Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in January 1967, and flew combat missions almost daily until being shot down May 19.
He was described as "missing in action" until 1974, when he was listed as "killed in action." He has been posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and six Air medals.
Canada's Global News' Washington Bureau Chief Jackson Proskow witnessed the casket's unloading. Proskow was on his way home from El Paso, where he had been covering the deadly shooting that took place last weekend. He described an emotional scene; a moment of goodness in a difficult week.
"Airports rarely see moments of quiet — but for a few brief minutes, Dallas Love Field fell absolutely silent," he wrote. Onlookers stood silently at the window, some wiping away tears. "As Flight 1220 from Oakland taxied toward the jet bridge, two airport firetrucks provided a sombre water salute while the ground crew stood in formation."
"It was peaceful, it was beautiful and it was a privilege to watch," he added.
Knight's welcome home ceremony stands in contrast to the conditions of the U.S.'s fewer than 850,000 living Vietnam veterans, many of whom still suffer from the aftereffects of combat. These include severe injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder as well as health issues related to Agent Orange exposure. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that nearly half of all currently-homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era.
Knight's service with full military honors will be held on Saturday 50 miles west of Dallas in Weatherford, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.