MORRISVILLE, N.C. (Richard Stradling | The News and Observer) - Nearly 50 years after he went missing when his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War, Air Force Col. Edgar Felton Davis returned to North Carolina on Thursday to be buried next to his wife.
His remains arrived to a hero's welcome at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on an American Airlines flight from Dallas. Water cannons from two RDU fire trucks arched over the plane as it pulled up to the gate, where a six-member honor guard from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base waited. About 130 motorcycles, members of the N.C. Patriot Guard Riders, escorted the hearse to Goldsboro, where Davis will be buried Friday with full military honors at the Eastern Carolina State Veterans Cemetery, under the flight path for the Air Force base.
Martha Sue Davis did not live long enough to welcome her husband home, but their three children were there, among about 20 family members who stood in the shadow of the Airbus jet's wing while his flag-covered coffin emerged from the cargo hold.
Born and raised in Goldsboro, Davis graduated from N.C. State University in 1958 just before joining the Air Force.
He was 32 and a navigator on a night photo reconnaissance mission over Laos when the RF-4C Phantom fighter-bomber was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery on Sept. 17, 1968. The pilot ejected and was later rescued, but Davis was declared missing in action when efforts to find him or the plane failed.
Davis was later declared dead, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which announced Jan. 18 that Davis had been found.
Then, in 2015, the Defense Intelligence Agency received a tip from a Laotian man who said his father had come across the remains of a U.S. pilot in 1968 and buried them near his house. The man turned over bone fragments, which the POW/MIA agency identified as Davis using DNA that matched his family.
Hundreds of people were involved in Davis' homecoming Thursday, including the honor guard from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson and volunteers with the USO of North Carolina who tended to the family's needs. Police, sheriff's deputies and State Highway Patrol officers cleared traffic along the route to Goldsboro, and firefighters saluted from bridges as the procession passed.
The Patriot Guard will escort any veteran's funeral at a family's request, and volunteers are usually riding somewhere in the state every day of the week, said Charles Bullock, a Vietnam veteran from Knightdale who is the group's assistant state captain. Bullock said he wasn't surprised by the turnout Thursday, given the circumstances.
"A man coming home after 50 years, it's not hard," he said.
Bullock said Davis came from a military family. His grandfather served in World War I and his father was killed in World War II, Bullock said. And his two sons, Alan and Edgar Jr., followed their father into the Air Force.