Roy Knight, of Valley Center, by his father’s final resting place in Cool, Texas. It’s been a long journey, and he shares his story below.
It is different this year… and yet it is not. For some of us, every day is Memorial Day, the day our nation sets aside to honor those “who gave the last full measure of devotion” sacrificing their lives in battle. For many who lost a loved one, a friend, a comrade, every day is Memorial Day, the weight of loss is ever present. Though no longer “unbearable,” because we must bear it, it is always there.
Maj Roy A. Knight, Jr. 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando) USAF
I was ten years old in 1967 when I said goodbye to my father, Maj Roy A. Knight, Jr., for what I thought was going to be a year, as he left to fight in his war – Vietnam. He did not return until August of last year, 52 years after he boarded his flight in January 1967 at Love Field in Dallas. As a USAF fighter pilot flying the A-1E Skyraider with the 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando), his war was intense and over in five months when he was shot down attacking a target in northern Laos, May 19, 1967. He was carried as Missing In Action until he was declared Killed In Action in 1974, along with all other MIA’s who had not been returned at the end of the war (save one who was known to be a POW but who had not been turned over by the North Vietnamese).
Thanks to the efforts of the active duty military personnel and Dept of Defense civilians working in the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, my father’s remains were located, recovered and identified last year. This followed years of interviews, excavations and research, the first excavations being in the 1980’s and 1994. Dad was returned to his beloved Texas and laid to rest underneath the post oaks in a small cemetery near his boyhood home, next to his brothers, mother and father, including his oldest brother, Jack, who was killed in Burma during World War II. (The Knight family has been observing Memorial Day in a personal way for a long time.)
It has been almost nine months since we buried Dad. It is still new and taking some time to get comfortable with. I had given up hope that we would ever complete this journey. I was ten years old when it began.
Maj Knight and his A-1E Skyraider – Udorn RTAFB, Thailand
The last physical sighting of Col Roy Knight by his wingman was when his plane crashed on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in northern Laos. No real way of knowing if he somehow got out of the airplane and survived. Or was he captured and executed? A story without an ending that lasted for 52 years. This limbo condition of the MIA family is rather unique and while I am so very happy that we have brought Dad home, it is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that there are other sons and daughters who continue to wait. There was never the “closure” one usually has when losing a loved one. There was always the unanswered question. What we expected to be temporary lasted for 52 years. And then, through the grace of God, and the extraordinary hard work in miserable conditions of those wonderful DPAA troops, the waiting was over. After a month of removing earth and sifting through it, they recovered human remains at the crash site. Those remains were taken to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii and after weeks of analysis and peer confirmation, they were identified as my father. Dad was found and brought home
While there is certainly a finality in the homecoming and laying to rest of my father, an ending, as it were, there is not really closure per se.
Roy A. Knight, III being presented the flag from his father’s casket by a member of the USAF 7th Bomb Wing Honor Guard
And in fact, in many ways, it is a beginning. A new paradigm. For the first time, on Memorial Day, I know where Dad is. There is a place that I can go that has carved stone with his name on it. There is a place where my children and their children can go and read his name. And I can tell them, while I still can, about my Dad. My hero. The very embodiment of what a man should be. The journey is over.
Memorial Day is different this year. After decades of grief never fully realized, there is the opportunity to finally lay it all down. But it is also the most heart-swelling, unbelievably uplifting experience. I have decades of working on the POW/MIA issue with people who did not have “skin in the game” as I did, but who worked heroically to bring about a full accounting of our missing men. I have the stories of his recovery told to me by those who were there. I have the image in my heart of a young forensic archeologist gathering the recovery team on Dad’s crash site in Laos on his birthday as they began the search. Those young warriors raised their water bottles to one of their brothers, long lost, and sang “Happy Birthday” to him. There were the unprecedented efforts of both the USAF and Southwest Airlines to allow and facilitate my brother flying Dad on that last leg home to Dallas. There was the motorcade out of Dallas to our hometown of Weatherford that stopped city streets and interstates as we passed.
Roy Knight and his grandson, Jack, during the funeral service
There were the flags and the firetrucks on overpasses. The USAF Honor Guard and the current generation of fighter pilots who flew over him as he was laid to rest. And there were the people. Those wonderful Americans. They didn’t know who was passing by, but they knew it was a fallen warrior. They came out by the hundreds, lining the streets, pulling over and getting out of their cars, hands over their hearts. There were the people who knew us who traveled thousands of miles on a moment’s notice to be there. And those wonderful family and friends who helped us carry the burden with their love and support for all of those years. Most importantly, I shared these special moments with my beautiful wife who walked this road with me for more than 45 of those years, and our two boys who grew up with this ever presence of a person they never knew, and with my grandchildren who are learning of their legacy.
It is different this year… And yet it is not. My identity for most of my life was the boy, the son of a warrior who was lost. And then he was found. It is different.
The Knight family, Summer 1966. Dad would be missing in action in Laos less than a year later.
Dad will always be the tall, handsome 36-year-old fighter pilot and a large part of me will always be the ten-year-old boy who said goodbye. He is finally home. The physical reminders of him that I still have, the clothes and items he once owned grow old and, sadly, deteriorate no matter how hard you try to preserve them. But what will not be diminished for him or any of those lost on the field of battle, is the memory of those who knew them and loved them, whether son or mother, friend or comrade. They remain a part of us, adding to what makes us who we are. They live on in our hearts and when their name is spoken. And every day is Memorial Day…
(Editor’s Note: Roy Knight is part of the PVI family. His wife, Phyllis, is our Marketing and Community Relations Manager. We thank Roy for sharing his moving personal story with us.)
To read more on the life and legacy of Roy A. Knight, Jr., please check out the following links: