Maj. Burke Morgan, a 1961 Air Force Academy graduate, had finally made it home.
The Manitou Springs resident was killed in Laos during the summer of 1967 after his plane crashed into a tree.
For 39 years, his wife and two children held out hope that, somehow, the man who loved beer, football and cigars would find his way back to them.
Thursday, a bugler played taps and pilots flew a missing-man formation over the academy cemetery. Then Morgan was laid to rest next to Mary, the girl he met at age 15 and married the day after graduation.
The family waited until Thursday, when members of the Class of 1961 were holding their 45-year reunion, to honor Morgan.
He was a navigator aboard a Douglas A-26 Invader that crashed into a tree in August 1967. Bob Brickey, a retired Air Force colonel who spoke at Thursday’s ceremony, said enemy operatives found Morgan, killed him and took his AFA graduation ring, a knife and his pistol. The pilot, Maj. John Kerr, was never found.
Last November, a representative from the Pentagon’s POW/Missing Personnel Office showed Morgan’s widow forensic evidence that confirmed his remains had been recovered in Laos late last year. They had been held by a former driver for an official in Laos, who did not know what do to with them.
Four months later, Mary died of a bile-duct illness that she had suffered from for several years.
Danna Barnes, who lives in Seattle and was 4½ years old when her father died, said that November day marked the real end of her mother’s life.
“I think she kind of quit. She was kind of tired. … She’d been holding on to this for 39 years.”
Morgan was remembered by classmates and family as an outgoing, gregarious man who loved animals. His sister, Lynne Schuster, recalled a day in the early ’60s when they were on their way to a barbecue in Morgan’s prized 1961 white convertible Corvette.
“We went to the liquor store. We had all the booze at my feet in the passenger’s side, and I don’t know how much it was, but it wasn’t a little amount,” Schuster said. “And when we were driving back to the party, a dog ran out in front of us, and Burke slammed on the brakes.”
A big bottle of red wine spilled all over the floor of the Corvette, but Morgan was happy. He missed the dog.
Kyle Craig, who was only 18 months old when his father died and was later adopted by his mother’s new husband, said he knows his father mostly through stories told to him by others.
But Barnes has memories of her dad watching football, drinking beer and roughhousing with her.
“He was running me around the house; he was pulling me around by my legs. I got the worst case of rug burn I ever had, but I was so happy. I didn’t care, because he wasn’t around a lot.”
She also remembers their last goodbye.
“I really got pretty angry with him that he was leaving. I yelled at him and screamed. … I told him, ‘You’re going to get hurt and never come back,’ and that was the worst thing to say because that’s what happened.”