Dramatic video footage shows the emotional flight in which a Southwest Airlines captain brought home a flag-draped casket carrying the remains of his father more than 50 years after his plane was shot down over Southeast Asia.
‘To be able to do this, to bring my father home – I’m very, very honored and very lucky,’ said Bryan Knight, himself an Air Force veteran who flew his father, Air Force Col. Roy Knight Jr, back to Love Field Airport in Dallas on Thursday.
‘How many people would ever have this kind of opportunity to do this?’
Fifty-two years ago, Bryan Knight, who was just five years old at the time, waved goodbye to his father as he took off for Love Field Airport in Dallas for what would be the final time.
‘With the end of the war, I remember as a kid watching every single POW come off those airplanes,’ Knight said.
‘And I watched every one of them.
‘Your job and your duty as a family and as a child are to have hope.
‘But as a kid, what you really think is if you don’t do that you’re somehow going to be responsible for him being lost.’
The hero pilot died aged just 36 in northern Laos on May 19, 1967, after his jet was shot down but his body was not found until earlier this year by investigators looking at crash sites in the area.
After Knight’s body was retrieved from the crash site and its identity confirmed, it was flown to Hawaii and then to Oakland.
Bryan Knight would pilot the final leg of the journey from California to Dallas.
Reporter Jackson Proskow was returning home to Washington DC when he witnessed the touching ceremony in Dallas. He said the airport fell silent as the ‘entire terminal’ came to pay their respects to the fallen hero.
Jackson wrote on Twitter: ‘As we wait at the gate, we’re told that Captain Knight is coming home to Dallas. When he left from this very airport to fight in Vietnam his 5-year-old son came to the airfield and waved goodbye. It was the last time he would see his father alive.
‘Today the pilot of the plane bringing Capt. Knight back to Dallas is his son.
‘What a privilege it was to witness this moment. For those asking, they announced it over the intercom. The gate agent was very emotional as he told the story over the PA. They handed out American flags to everyone at the gate.’
Bryan Knight then took the microphone and addressed the passengers.
‘As you’ve probably noticed, [there’s a] little activity going on on the right side of the aircraft,’ he says.
He began to choke up as he informed the passengers that ‘one of our servicemen’ was being transported home to Dallas.
‘Fifty-two years in coming,’ the captain told the passengers.
‘When I first got the call, it was almost surreal because I really didn’t think it would ever happen,’ he said.
‘And we’re going to have a place where we can honor him.’
Southwest staff and airport workers were there to meet the plane as the coffin carrying Knight Jr’s remains was carried from the plane draped in an American flag.
As the plane landed at Dallas Love Field Airport, fire trucks gave the approaching Southwest aircraft the traditional water cannon salute.
Southwest grounds crew and personnel were lined up as the plane taxied off the runway and parked at the arrivals terminal.
The air traffic control operator who was in touch with the pilot told Knight: ‘On behalf of a regional approach, we welcome your father, Col. Knight, home.
‘While he’s gone, he will never be forgotten.’
Roy Knight Jr was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and six Air Medals for his actions, according to his obituary.
It reads: ‘He was well-liked and respected by the men with whom he served, particularly the enlisted airmen with whom he had a special connection having been one of them for several years.’
His wife, and mother to his three children, Patricia, passed away in 2008.
Another of Knight’s sons, Roy, wrote on Facebook: ‘A lot of wonderful people have had a hand in preparing for this final moment of Dad’s journey. It has been so uplifting to work with so many great folks!
‘As I have said before, we have been offered everything from a bed in someone’s home to a place of eternal rest there at Holder’s Chapel Cemetery. The love these people have shown our father and our family has just been overwhelming.
‘I look forward to thanking each of them personally. Thank you all for sharing in this solemn yet joyous time for our family.’
He told The Weatherford Democrat: ‘It’s been 52 years since dad was shot down — I was 10 years old when he left.
‘What is perhaps unique in our experience and that of about 2,500 other families, and something you will never see again, is missing in action aspect — this limbo life we lived for so many years. There was a chance he could be alive and there was a possibility he could be a prisoner of war.’
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