At age five, Bryan Knight unknowingly said goodbye to his father, Air Force Colonel Roy A. Knight, Jr., for the last time at Dallas Love Field Airport as his father deployed to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
On Thursday, the son who said goodbye fifty-two years earlier piloted the Southwest Airlines flight that brought his father back home.
After being shot down in combat on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos on May 19, 1967, Colonel Knight ejected from his aircraft, though no parachute was seen.
A search was conducted, but was unsuccessful. He was officially declared Missing in Action. His status was later changed to Killed in Action in 1974, though no body was ever found.
However, in February 2019, more than fifty years after his disappearance, his remains were recovered and positively identified using dental analysis.
According to a firsthand account from Jackson Proskow, a reporter for the Global News who happened to be in Dallas as the event unfolded, a gate agent, “his voice cracking,” announced the significance of the “very special” moment to the crowd as miniature American flags were distributed.
Growing increasingly emotional as he discussed what was being witnessed, the gate agent explained that not only was the inbound flight from Oakland carrying the remains of an American hero, initially declared Missing in Action, but his son was the one piloting and escorting him on his final journey home.
Elaborating on the solemnity of the moment, Proskow reported, “Airports rarely see moments of quiet – but for a few brief minutes, Dallas Love Field fell absolutely silent.”
As Flight 1220 from Oakland taxied to the jet bridge, the Boeing 737 was met with a water salute from airport firetrucks and a ground crew standing in formation.
Onlookers watched from the terminal as the flag-draped casket was unloaded from the cargo hold and met by a military guard unit, as relatives of Colonel Knight watched six members of the Air Force honor guard march in unison toward the plane to carry the Colonel’s casket to the gate.
Arriving at the same airport from which he said goodbye to his family for the last time, Colonel Knight was finally home.
A Texan at heart, Colonel Knight was born in Garner in 1931, as the sixth child in a family of eight.
Just days after his 17th birthday, he enlisted in the Air Force, where he served as a clerk typist in the Philippines, Japan, and Korea before attending Officer Candidate School in 1953 and pilot training in Laredo in 1957.
He became an instructor pilot at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio in 1963 before completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Omaha and reporting to the 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando) at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in January 1967.
There he flew dozens of combat missions before being shot down on May 19, 1967.
He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and six Air medals. Additionally, he was promoted from the rank of Major to Colonel between the time he was listed as Missing in Action and later declared Killed in Action.
His son, Bryan, is currently a captain for Southwest Airlines and has been for nearly twenty years.
A wake in Colonel Knight’s honor will be held Friday in Weatherford followed by a funeral with full military honors on Saturday.
Described in his obituary as “well-liked and respected by the men with whom he served,” his family intends to place any POW/MIA bracelets returned to them in the casket prior to his burial.
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.