Son Flies Vietnam Pilot’s Remains Home to Dallas Airport Where He Said Goodbye 52 Years Ago

August 9, 2019 Updated: August 9, 2019

Hand resting on the military casket draped in the Stars and Stripes, Captain Bryan Knight stood on the tarmac of the same Texas airport where he had seen his father alive for the last time some 52 years ago.

As six military pallbearers stood in wait, passengers crowded the windows in respectful silence after the announcement came over the tannoy on Aug. 8 at Love Field airport in Dallas: A U.S. Vietnam war pilot was being brought home to rest, flown in on a Southwest plane piloted by his own son.

At this same airport, prior to departing for service in Vietnam, Air Force Maj. Roy Knight said goodbye to his family, including his five-year-old son.  Major Knight was shot down just five months later, on May 19, 1967, and presumed dead.

Roy A. Knight, Jr.(Defense POW/Accounting Agency)

For over half a century, various excavations of the crash site failed to identify a body. Then, with the help of DNA testing, earlier this year, his remains were identified.

His son, Bryan Knight now a Southwest airlines captain had been able to make the final leg of the journey, flying his father into the airport, where the plane was met with a water cannon salute before his father was given full military honors.

Southwest Airlines Captain Bryan Knight flies his father back home to Dallas Love Field for the final time more than 50 years after he was killed in action during the Vietnam War in 1967. (Ashlee D. Smith/Southwest Airlines)

The moment caught passengers by surprise, said Jackson Proskow, Washington Bureau Chief of Global News television network, happened to be in the airport at the time.

“The entire terminal fell silent,” he said, adding that the whole terminal came out to watch.

“The gate agent was very emotional as he told the story over the PA,” Proskow wrote on Twitter. “They handed out American flags to everyone at the gate.”

Captain Knight said that he was overjoyed when he learned his father’s remains were finally identified and would be brought back after decades of missing in action.

When he heard the news, he said he told himself: “He’s really coming home. He’s really coming back and we are going to have a place where we can honor him.”

“January of 1967 was the last time I saw my father when I was 5 years old and that was at Love Field Dallas Texas, “said Knight in a Southwest video clip.

According to a Southwest spokesperson, Captain Knight learned that his father’s remains were positively identified earlier this year, “which began the mission of returning Col. Knight to his home in North Texas.”

“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,” said the spokesperson via email.

Captain Knight said he recalls feeling as a child that he had a responsibility to keep hope alive,  feeling that if he didn’t, it might somehow mean he was responsible for the death of a loved one.

“At the end of the war, I remember every single POW coming off that plane. Your job as a family is to have hope.”

The identification of Knight’s remains was announced in June, by the Defence POW/Accounting Agency.

He had last been seen on May 19, 1967, leading a flight of two A-1E aircraft on a strike mission in northern Laos, when his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire.

“No parachute was observed prior to the aircraft crashing and bursting into flames,” the agency says. “Additionally, no beeper signals were heard. While search and rescue efforts were initiated, an organized search could not be conducted due to intensity of hostile ground fire in the area.”

As the story of Knight’s return went viral on the internet, it caught the attention of Roni Edenfield, who realized she had a POW bracelet bearing Knight’s name and the date he went missing in action.

“I am reading and blessed by the amazing outpouring of respect and patriotism,” she wrote. “I wore his POW bracelet when I was a child. I would like to mail to his family. I am now crying.”

 

Some 5 million of those bracelets were made in remembrance of the 58,000 U.S. military lost in action, bearing the names of real U.S. military personnel missing in action.

The idea was for the wearer to keep them on until the person named on the bracelet, or their remains, were returned to America.

Follow Simon on Twitter: @SPVeazey
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