Remains of Vietnam Air Force sergeant united with family after 4 - WSMV News 4

Remains of Vietnam Air Force sergeant united with family after 47 years

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

On Friday at Nashville International Airport, one family will finally say goodbye to a serviceman, which is something they say is going a long way toward healing old wounds

What brought them there was something that's remained painful for 47 long years. 

"It's been how many years? Forty-seven?" Nancy Nipper asked, surrounded by cousins and other family members.

Nipper says it's not often she gets to be with all the most important people in her world.

"All of us are here," she says.

No one could miss such an important day.

"It's sort of been an open wound in my family for a lot of years," Nipper explains. "To kind of relive the not knowing, the misinformation that we got, and to have it come full-circle...it really is a miracle."

Nipper's uncle, William Brandon O'Kieff grew up in Murfreesboro, a football player for the Tigers at Central High School. 

Nipper still remembers all his years as an Air Force technical sergeant, when he'd drop his duffel bag at her house for a few days of family visits.

"It's been a real hole in our life that he's not with us," she says.

When O'Kieff left to serve in the Vietnam War, he'd been married to his wife, Margaret, for more than 10 years, and had two children, Dawn and Alex. 

In November 1970, O'Kieff was with five other American crew members flying over South Vietnam when their plane crashed. O'Kieff's body was never found. For decades, his family did not know if they would ever get the chance to bury O'Kieff at home in Tenn.  

A call last month changed everything.

"I'm just grateful," Nipper says. "I'm grateful this day has come."

The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory identified O'Kieff's remains almost 50 years after his death. 

His wife Margaret passed away a year ago,  but O'Kieff's children were among family at the airport Friday to receive his remains. 

"It's a great end to some really difficult times in their life," Nipper says. "It really makes us feel special in that he really did give his life for something."

A service with full military honors is being held at Roselawn Memorial Gardens in Murfreesboro on Saturday at 1 p.m. 

Governor Haslam has declared a day of mourning and ordered flags at half-staff.

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