MORRISVILLE, N.C. — The remains of an Air Force officer lost for almost 50 years after he was shot down over Southeast Asia finally came home Thursday to North Carolina, where he was greeted by his three children and a mile-long procession of roaring, flag-fluttering motorcycles.
Col. Edgar F. Davis was the navigator aboard a RF-4C Phantom fighter-bomber aircraft shot down during a night photo-reconnaissance mission over Laos in September 1968. His remains were identified in late December.
An Air Force color guard carried his flag-draped coffin from an American Airlines flight arriving at Raleigh-Durham International Airport from Dallas to a waiting hearse.
About 30 members of his extended family were on hand including his daughter and two sons, both retired Air Force officers, said Robert Kerns, spokesman at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Davis's children and other family members declined to talk to a reporter until his burial Friday in his native Goldsboro, home of the Air Force base.
The airport ceremony offered proof that the open wounds of military families can close, even decades later, thanks to the continuing work of U.S. teams committed to finding and identifying troops long missing in action.
"We don't give up. We'll never leave a soldier behind," said Joe Donnelly, a former Army major who twice served in Vietnam in the 1960s and now heads the USO's local honors team. "I don't mean to sound glib, but it just may take a while."
Davis was 32 when his jet was shot down over Laos, which borders Vietnam to the west and was a secret front in the war in an attempt to destroy communist supply lines in the region. The pilot of Davis's plane ejected and was rescued. Searchers failed to locate Davis or the aircraft wreckage. He was later declared dead, according to the Defense Department's POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
MIA investigators found a villager in 2015 who reported the burial location of a U.S. service member. U.S. military scientists and medical examiners used new kinds of DNA analysis to match Davis's remains to his family, the accounting agency said.
Since Davis's remains were identified at the end of last year, more than three dozen other service members dating back to World War II have been identified.
They included 20 sailors from the USS Oklahoma, which capsized with the loss of 429 people during the Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency two years ago dug up 388 sets of remains from a Hawaii cemetery after determining that advances in forensic science and genealogical help from families could make identifications possible.