Missing airman laid to rest at Veterans Day events in Harnett County

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
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Staff Sgt. Donald Stewart died in a Vietnam War plane crash.

LILLINGTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- Staff Sergeant Donald Stewart's family waved toward the screaming parade-goers as they turned off Main Street.

"Welcome home," the Veterans Day crowd yelled.

A homecoming it is, indeed.

Stewart was laid to rest in his native Harnett County Wednesday, 50 years after his death. The airman's remains were returned to North Carolina from Vietnam earlier in the week.

Read more here: Missing airman's remains returned to North Carolina

"It blows my mind, said Thomas Taylor, a Harnett County resident attending the parade. "Like all of this time and now all of a sudden they come out with it. That's mind-boggling."

"I get chills just thinking about that," added Cherokee Champine, a Harnett Central High School band mother who came to the parade to see her kids perform. "They wanted to bring their loved one home, and they went and they did that. They brought their loved one home."

Harnett County centered its Veterans Day observances around the Coats native. The day began with a service at the county's Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which followed by the town's parade.

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Veterans Day Parade in Harnett County (WTVD Photo/ Nicole Carr, Reporter)
WTVD Photo/ Nicole Carr, Reporter

Later in the afternoon Coats Baptist Church held a memorial service for Stewart. A neatly folded, crisp dress blues uniform was set carefully in the open casket, draped with the American flag.

Dona Stewart said her father's return wasn't just for the Stewart family. It was a victory and provided hope for all those who still have loved ones unaccounted for in war.

She recalled accepting her father's remains in Vietnam.

"I guess there's no words that can describe...," Stewart said. "Nothing prepares you cause it was kind of like I was going in that room with such dread and then after you hold the bones...like your mind goes blank and it's just peace."

A full military honors burial followed in Angier's Lakeside Memorial Gardens.

"This is wonderful closure, and I still don't know how, and I don't know why, and I don't know that this will be the end, but I think it will,"'said Stewart's widow, Wandra Stewart Raynor.

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