The remains of Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher returned to his Florida home on Thursday, 18 years after his FA-18 Hornet was shot down on the first night of the 1991 Gulf War.
Speicher's remains arrived at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station around 3 p.m. About ten minutes later his coffin was rolled off the plane draped with the U.S. flag. It was to remain at the All Saints Chapel on the base overnight.
Speicher's ex-wife and his children placed roses on his casket before it was loaded into a hearse. Several sailors stood at attention and lined the runway as the hearse passed by.
Buddy Harris, who was Speicher's best friend and who later married his widow, Joanne, accompanied the casket on the flight from Dover, Delaware, to Florida.
On Friday, Speicher's casket will first be taken to the Memorial Wall outside Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. The hearse will drive by locations with ties to Speicher's life. He will be buried at Jacksonville Memory Gardens in a private ceremony.
Speicher was a native of the Kansas City area and moved to Florida when he was a teenager.
He graduated from Florida State University in 1980 with a business administration degree. The school's $1.2 million Scott Speicher Tennis Complex was dedicated in 1993.
Private family ceremony
Speicher will be buried in a private family ceremony at Jacksonville Memory Gardens after the motorcade.
Defense officials originally declared Speicher killed in action hours after his plane was shot down over west-central Iraq. Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney announced on television that Speicher was the first casualty of the Gulf War.
Ten years after the crash, the Navy changed Speicher's status to missing in action, citing an absence of evidence that Speicher had died. In October 2002, the Navy switched his status to "missing/captured," although it has never said what evidence it had that he may have been in captivity.
Over the years, critics contended the Navy had not done enough, particularly right after the crash, to search for the 33-year-old pilot.
The military recovered bones and multiple skeletal fragments, and Speicher was identified by matching a jawbone and dental records and later by DNA reference samples from family members.
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