FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Almost 40 years after his plane was shot down while scanning the waters off Vietnam for Viet Cong, the remains of an airman from Brunswick Naval Air Station have been laid to rest.

The remains of Lt. j.g. Frank E. Hand III were buried at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery after his identity was confirmed in Hawaii. Navy F/A-18 Hornets performed the “missing man” formation during the ceremony – a special gesture for Hand’s younger brother Bruce Hand.

“This has all been good,” Bruce Hand said. “Everything has just come together beautifully.”

Frank Hand, 26, along with three other officers and eight sailors, took off on a routine mission on April 1, 1968, in a P-3 Orion from Brunswick’s Patrol Squadron 26, which was stationed at an air base in Thailand.

His airplane – he served as co-pilot – was hit by anti-aircraft fire from a Cambodian gunboat, according to news accounts. The pilots attempted to fly to land, but the four-engine aircraft didn’t make it. No one survived.

Search-and-rescue crews recovered something from every man on board, so none were listed as missing in action. All searchers found of Hand, according to the Defense Department, was a boot bearing his name.

On April 24, 1968, he was laid to rest in Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Fla., where his wife wanted him buried.

The two had met in Pensacola while Hand was stationed there. After leaving for service in southeast Asia, Hand wrote to her every day.

“He just wanted me to stay busy and pass the time because I had so much free time on my hands,” said Linda Shoemaker, who now lives in North Carolina. “He would tell me all was going well and ‘I wish I could be with you.’ They were great love letters. I kept all of them.”

In the summer of 2002, a team of Defense Department MIA hunters in Ho Chi Minh City got a call from their counterparts in the Vietnamese government. Some fishermen had discovered human bones and airplane wreckage in the Gulf of Thailand.

Some months later, the bones were flown to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, where they stayed in a laboratory for five years.

When a Navy official eventually called Bruce Hand and requested a blood sample, he was excited. Still, he said, “I had to tell myself to sit down, nothing is going to come of this.”

But the Navy made a successful DNA match, and the Department of Veterans Affairs gave Bruce permission to place Frank’s remains in a columbarium at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery – ordinarily not allowed because he already had a spot at a national cemetery.

“While this has presented a unique situation, for reasons of compassion we decided to honor the Hand family’s request,” said Ron Pemberton, director of the cemetery.


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