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Missing Tacoma Airman Returns Home After 45 Years

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(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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SEATAC, Wash. (AP) — The body of a Tacoma man whose plane was shot down over Laos returned home this week, 45 years after he went missing during the Vietnam War.

The family of U.S. Air Force pilot Capt. Douglas Ferguson and the military never stopped looking after he was declared missing in action in 1969.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Thursday, he received a hero’s welcome with an honor guard, a water-cannon salute from the Port of Seattle Fire Department and a flag presentation, KING-TV reported.

“It was more than I could have imagined,” said his sister, Sue Scott, who lives in Michigan. “It was just beautiful, and I think it honored him in such a noble way.”

Scott’s mission has been that no one forgets Ferguson, who received a Silver Star for extracting two pilots under enemy fire.

“At that time I said to myself I cannot live my life raising my young sons without looking for my brother,” Scott said. “That’s when I made the commitment to bring him home one way or another.”

Ferguson’s remains were recovered at the crash site in Laos. The U.S military’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii helped identify his remains. Ferguson will be buried at Mountain View Memorial Park in Lakewood, near his parents.

The last year has been an emotional transition for Scott, who has dedicated her life to the families of prisoners of war and missing-in-action service personnel. She is a board member and has been chairman of the National League of Prisoners of War and Missing-in Action Families, according to The News Tribune.

Her brother’s remains were found in April 2013. But official confirmation had to wait until February after dental records and physical evidence gathered from a crash site in Laos confirmed his identity.

“That little flame of hope, it maybe gets smaller but it never goes out,” Scott told The News Tribune. “When you finally get an answer, it’s bittersweet.”

On Dec. 30, 1969, Ferguson was a 24-year-old first lieutenant and weapons-systems officer aboard an F-4D Phantom fighter-bomber. The aircraft took a direct hit from ground fire and exploded while attacking fuel-storage tanks in northern Laos.

A reconnaissance aircraft that flew over the site a day later spotted what could have been two parachutes on the ground. Ferguson and the plane’s pilot were declared missing-in-action. Both men were promoted to captain in absentia. Ferguson was later declared killed-in-action.

After the ceremony at Sea-Tac Airport, the state patrol motorcycle detachment from Seattle and Tacoma and Patriot Guard Riders accompanied him to Mountain View Memorial Funeral Home in Lakewood.

Patriot Guard West Central District Captain Jim Dickson was part of the procession. A Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966 to 1972, Dickson said his group is giving Ferguson the homecoming he deserves.

“This is the way it should have been for all of the KIAs back then,” the Grapeview resident said. “This one is really, really important to me.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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