Bryan Knight was 5 when he waved goodbye to his father, Col. Roy Knight Jr., at the airport in Dallas during the Vietnam War. It would be the last time the boy saw his dad, who was later shot down in combat.
On Thursday, the elder Knight finally came home — flown there by the same son, now a Southwest Airlines pilot.
The whole episode was caught on film and in a moving series of tweets by a Canadian journalist who was en route home from a dispiriting week reporting on the shooting in El Paso. Jackson Proskow was returning to his home base as Washington bureau chief of Global News television network.
As Proskow waited at the gate, a Southwest Airlines agent handed out American flags. Then a gate agent started speaking over the intercom, explaining that the incoming plane from Oakland, Calif., was bearing the remains of the American airman shot down over Vietnam. His remains had been identified in June, and he was finally coming home.
Knight, the sixth of eight children, had joined the Air Force just after turning 17, the newspaper said. He remained in the service throughout the Cold War and the Korean War before going on to become a pilot with the 602nd Tactical Fighter Squadron in the Vietnam War, according to the Weatherford Democrat, the local newspaper.
The U.S. Air Force colonel had plunged out of the sky on May 19, 1967, “while attacking a target on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos,” according to his obituary on Legacy.com.
“Col. Knight ejected from his aircraft, but no parachute was seen deploying,” the Southwest Airlines gate agent explained at Dallas’s Love Field, his voice cracking. “A search was undertaken but could not find him.”
After several searches, Knight’s remains were located, and their identity confirmed on June 4 based on dental records, the Weatherford Democrat reported.
At the airport Thursday, dozens of airline passengers and personnel began gathering as the gate agent gave more context. The plane was still about 15 minutes out.
As the gate agent announced that the pilot was Knight’s son, “there were quiet gasps,” Proskow wrote. “A few people burst into tears.”
He began posting the unfolding story on Twitter, in real time.
The terminal, Proskow wrote, fell completely and utterly silent, even the announcements. People gathered at the window to watch the plane land, some with faces pressed to the glass, others wiping away tears. TSA agents stood in a somber line near the gate.
“As Flight 1220 from Oakland taxied toward the jet bridge, two airport firetrucks provided a somber water salute, while the ground crew stood in formation,” Proskow wrote in a story for Global News.
The casket, draped in a flag, emerged from the cargo hold, met by a group that he assumed was the colonel’s family.
A service was being held Thursday evening, according to the Weatherford Democrat, and Knight was to be buried with full military honors on Friday, interred with family members.
“Dallas became the place where the weight of the world seemed to melt away. The place where the good outweighed the bad for the first time in days,” Proskow wrote. “It was peaceful, it was beautiful, and it was a privilege to watch.”
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