A thunderous rumble could be heard before a dozen Washington State Patrol motorcycles and seven members of the Patriot Guard Riders honor guard turned into the funeral home parking lot.
Accompanying the procession was a hearse adorned with American flags. Inside were the remains of U.S. Air Force Capt. Douglas David Ferguson of Tacoma.
It was a homecoming 45 years overdue.
Ferguson went missing after his plane crashed during the Vietnam War. On Thursday afternoon, he finally returned to the state where he was born.
After four decades of not knowing definitively if her brother had died, Sue Scott also returned to Washington this week with 16 family members to honor her brother.
“It’s been sweet sorrow,” said Scott, who lives in Michigan. “I say that because I’ve been reconnecting with old neighborhood friends. And some of his classmates and squadron mates from the Air Force Academy are here.”
The last year has been an emotional transition for Scott, who has dedicated her life to the families of prisoners of war and missing-in-action service personnel. She is a board member and has been chairman of the National League of Prisoners of War and Missing-in Action Families.
After years helping other families, Scott was on the receiving end of the government’s notification earlier this year. Her brother’s remains were recovered in April 2013 but official confirmation had to wait until February after dental records and physical evidence gathered from a crash site in Laos confirmed his identity.
“That little flame of hope, it maybe gets smaller but it never goes out,” Scott said. “When you finally get an answer, it’s bittersweet.”
On Dec. 30, 1969, Ferguson was a first lieutenant and weapons systems officer aboard an F-4D Phantom fighter-bomber. The aircraft took a direct hit from ground fire and exploded while attacking fuel storage tanks in northern Laos.
Ferguson was 24 years old, a graduate of Wilson High School.
A reconnaissance aircraft that flew over the site a day later spotted what could have been two parachutes on the ground. Ferguson and the plane’s pilot were declared missing-in-action. Both men were promoted to captain in absentia. Ferguson was later declared killed-in-action.
Ferguson’s return Thursday was greeted with a formal Air Force welcome at Sea-Tac International Airport. Then, the state patrol motorcycle detachment from Seattle and Tacoma and Patriot Guard Riders accompanied him to Mountain View Memorial Funeral Home in Lakewood.
Patriot Guard West Central District captain Jim Dickson was part of the procession. A Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966 to 1972, Dickson said his group is giving Ferguson the homecoming he deserves.
“This is the way it should have been for all of the KIAs back then,” the Grapeview resident said. “This one is really, really important to me.”
Dickson guessed roughly 70 percent of the riders in his organization are Vietnam veterans. Attending memorials services like Ferguson’s at the request of families is “a healing process for a lot of us,” he said.
Ferguson’s remains will join parents David and Geraldine Ferguson at Mountain View Memorial Park.
The outpouring of support has been remarkable, Scott said. It includes organizers and participants in this week’s procession, as well as classmates from Ferguson’s Wilson Class of 1963 and those who graduated from the Air Force Academy with him in 1967.
“Their arms are wrapped around (me) and I feel like Doug’s message to us right now is ‘It’s time for me to be home,’” Scott said. “It’s his time; he is ready to be here and for this to be no longer lingering, but a final goodbye.”
Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8567