Missing airman laid to rest in hometown

ASSUMPTION, Ill. (WCIA) -- After nearly a half century of questions, a pilot's loved ones are finally getting the closure they hoped for.

Monday, hundreds gathered to see Captain Joseph Smith be put to rest in his hometown. Smith disappeared during combat in Vietnam in 1971. His body was just discovered last year.

The mood of the ceremony was bittersweet. There were tears and smiles, but most of all, people had endless admiration for Capt. Smith.

He touched the lives of many during his 25-years. That's why they were so happy to finally have him home where he belongs.

"You can say goodbye, but I still miss my friend and it's been almost 50-years since I saw him."

Decades later, loved ones say it's still hard to let go.

"I know we'd still be best friends."

For many, the loss of Capt. Smith was devastating.

"It put a big hole in the community."

But now, closure. The emotional ceremony brought out hundreds eager to pay tribute to a man they called a hero.

"When something like this happens, everyone comes out to show their respect."

At the age of 25, Smith was killed in battle during the Vietnam War. His plane was shot down while flying over Cambodia. His body, never found.

"When we got word that Joe was killed, I remembered thinking, 'Oh God, why did you have to take the best?'"

The news shook the small town where Smith was very well-known. He was captain of his high school football team and an active volunteer.

"He was a very nice guy."

"It's like he never met a stranger. He could talk to anybody about anything."

The only child was put to rest between his parents. He leaves no family behind, but community members say his legacy will live on.

"He's home now. He's finally home and God bless him."

The hour-long ceremony featured an air show tribute.


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