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After 52 years M.I.A., Colonel laid to rest in Florida

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

Four F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 93rd Fighter Squadron, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, fly in a Missing Man Formation during a full military honors funeral for U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, was shot down during a reconnaissance mission in 1966 over Vietnam and declared missing in action until his remains were discovered 52 years later during an excavation in April 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Krystie Martinez)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, flew 70 combat missions during World War II and continued to serve into the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were discovered 52 years later during an excavation in April 2018. (Photo Courtesy the Stewart family)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

MacDill Air Force Base Honor Guard carries the casket of U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, during a military honors service at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. After volunteering to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission, Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency during an excavation in April 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

MacDill Air Force Base Honor Guard performs a full military honors service for U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, after a funeral mass at St. Matthews Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. After volunteering to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission, Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered during an excavation in April 2018 by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

Marnie Stewart, wife of U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, hugs the American flag that draped her husband’s casket during a military honors service at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. After volunteering to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission, Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency during an excavation in April 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart’s decorations are presented to guests of his funeral mass at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. After volunteering to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission, Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered during an excavation in April 2018 by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

Maggie Stewart-Greenhill, one of four daughters to U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, grips an American flag presented to her during a military honors service at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. Her father’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action. His remains were recovered by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency during an excavation in April 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

Marnie Stewart, wife of U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, takes a moment of silence during a military honors service at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. After volunteering to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission, Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered during an excavation in April 2018 by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam

Jim Stewart, oldest son of U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, hugs an American flag presented to him during a military honors service at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. Stewart was 16 when his dad volunteered to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission over Vietnam. His father’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered during an excavation in April 2018 by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam
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Bill Stewart, youngest son of U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, hugs a Veteran during his father’s military honors service at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. Stewart was 6-years-old when his dad volunteered to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission over Vietnam. His father’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency during an excavation in April 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

M.I.A. Colonel returns to Florida from Vietnam
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Veterans stand during a military honors service for U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. After volunteering to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission, Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered during an excavation in April 2018 by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

After volunteering to take another pilot's place on a reconnaissance mission during the Vietnam War, Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II pilot, was shot down and declared missing in action in March of 1966.

 

Since the tragic disappearance, Stewart’s family has searched endlessly for any information regarding what happened that day.

 

As of April 2018, 52 years of questions and prayers were finally answered.

 

Stewart’s wife, Marnie, and their six children were notified that his remains, along with a St. Christopher medal, were discovered during an excavation in Vietnam by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. From there, his journey home to Winter Haven, Florida would begin.

 

“I prayed a lot over the years that this day would come,” said Marnie Stewart, now 94 years old. “And I prayed I’d still be here.”

 

After a flight from Hawaii to Tampa and a drive to Winter Haven, a formal full honors funeral service was held for Stewart at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Florida, June 18, 2018, where he was represented by his wife and children, Beth, Bill, Maggie, Kandi, Susie and Jim, along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

“My grandfather, though I never met him, is one of the people I admire most,” said Margaret Stewart. “His work ethic, devotion to our country and love for my grandmother and his family live on through his legacy. I am proud to be his granddaughter.”

 

Monday’s service included a mass, full military honors to include a Missing Man Formation executed by the 93rd Fighter Squadron, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, and burial.

 

“I think the experience has been surreal,” said Margaret. “For my family, it was well-deserved. Everyone is just so proud and honored to welcome him home. I think it’s going to bring a lot of peace for my family moving forward.”

 

During the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 Americans died and 1,700 are still unaccounted for. Even though these numbers are quite significant, the Stewart family can have peace knowing there is one more American who has returned home -- their beloved husband, father, grandfather.

 

“Over the last few days, the amount of people who came to honor my father has been overwhelming,” said his son, Jim Stewart. “Today, almost 53 years later, I can still hear his voice and laugh and sometimes his presence. His legacy is more than just his six kids, but the Airmen he served with.”

 

Col. Pete Stewart flew 70 combat missions in World War II, continued his service in the Korean War and then flew combat missions in Vietnam. His sacrifice will never be forgotten.