SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
It took Col. Edgar “Felton” Davis 50 years – and a little help along the way – to find his way home to Goldsboro, North Carolina, but he finally made it.
On Sept. 17, 1968, Davis took off aboard an RF-4C Phantom fighter-bomber aircraft on a photo-reconnaissance mission over the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Under the guise of night, Davis and his pilot attempted to gather information on an enemy location and give allied forces a critical advantage. However, the plane was spotted and shot down by anti-aircraft artillery. As the Phantom went down, the pilot safely ejected and was later rescued, but when no contact could be made with Davis, he was declared missing-in-action.
Subsequent search and rescue efforts attempted to look for Davis and the aircraft wreckage, to no avail. When efforts were called off, Davis was declared killed-in-action – one of more than 1,600 American service members who are unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.
Between August 2001 and February 2015, members of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency partnered with teams from L.P.D.R. to investigate the crash site six times that correlated with information they obtained about the downed aircraft. Personal effects and pieces of the wreckage were excavated, but analysis couldn’t determine if Davis was in the aircraft at the time of the crash.
It wasn’t until later in 2015 that there was a break in the case, when a Khammouan Province villager came forth with information about the burial location of a U.S. service member. The villager reported that, in 1968, his father came across the remains of a pilot and buried them near his house.
Analysis of the bone fragments matched with DNA from his family, as well as material and circumstantial evidence that fit with Davis’ loss. DPAA was determined that these remains belonged to the colonel and he was marked “accounted for” on Dec. 19, 2017.
On April 5, Col. Brian Armstrong, 4th Fighter Wing vice commander, had the privilege of escorting Davis’ remains from Hawaii back to Goldsboro.
“We, as a military and as a United States, never give up on our missing-in-action,” Armstrong said. “We’re always looking for them. It’s an absolute honor for me to bring someone home who’s been missing for almost 50 years and bring him home to his family.”
A hero’s welcome awaited Davis as his remains were flown into Raleigh-Durham Airport. Members of the 4th FW honor guard conducted a dignified transfer from the aircraft to the hearse and the next leg of his journey began.
Escorted by more than 130 motorcycles from the Patriot Guard Riders of North Carolina, the precession was greeted at every overpass between Raleigh and Goldsboro by members of local fire and police departments waving their hands and flags to welcome Davis home. As they turned onto Wayne Memorial Drive in Goldsboro, thousands of citizens lined the streets to pay tribute and respect to one of their own.
“We’re overwhelmed by what the community and Wayne County and Goldsboro and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base has done to honor our father,” said Davis’ second son, retired Col. Alan Davis. “There’s no doubt in our minds that his service is understood and appreciated in this community.
“The journey to bring our father home,” he continued, fighting back tears. “was long and with gaps, but [DPAA’s] work spanned years and we’d like to thank the individuals who never stopped looking and make this closure possible.”
After more than 50 years, Davis found himself back on U.S. soil, back in his hometown, and in his final resting place alongside his wife.
“This is a wonderful day,” said Davis’ daughter, Martha Morton. “It’s a sad day, but it’s a wonderful day. For our mom and our dad to be together, it’s beyond anything we could have hoped for.”
Col. Davis’ story is a success for those who continue the search for our nation’s missing-in-action, but their efforts will never rest until all are accounted for.