Edgar Felton Davis is finally home.
And after 50 years he is at last reunited with the love of his life, his wife Sue.
There was more laughter than tears as more than 300 people gathered Friday at noon at Providence United Methodist Church to celebrate Davis' homecoming more than 50 years after he lost his life in the service of his country.
Davis' sister, Virginia Lou Royall of Pintetops, remembered her late brother as an intense and intelligent person who enjoyed growing up on a nearby farm.
"He lived a very short life, 33 years," she said looking down at the flag-draped casket. "But it was a life well spent, and Felton and Sue Davis still live today in the lives of their three wonderful children and in the families that their children have established. Thanks be to God for Felton.
"We are here to celebrate his homecoming, to honor his life and his valor. And we are so thankful as a family that we finally have closure, and we are so grateful for all of those who made that happen."
Sue Davis, who was her true sister, died about 17 years ago, Royall said.
"We celebrate that they are back together again," she said.
Col. Edgar Felton Davis, an Air Force navigator with the 11th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, was shot down Sept. 17, 1968, while flying a reconnaissance mission over the Savannakhet Province, Laos, and was then reported as missing in action.
His remains were recovered in the Boulapha District, Khammouan province, Laos, in 2015. It took until December 2017 to identify the remains because of the wide range of tests of evidence necessary to the investigation.
Outside the church four members of a Wayne County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard stood on the church porch prior to the service.
The walk leading the church was lined with members of the Patriot Guard holding U.S., POW/MIA and U.S. Air Force flags.
A photo of Davis in uniform and one of he and his wife and three young children were placed near the entrance of the sanctuary.
Royall said that she and her siblings grew up on a tobacco and dairy farm near the church and worked hard with their parents.
"We grew up knowing how to work hard, but also what was so very important was this church, our faith," she said. "We were so blessed to grow up in a Christian home, to be taught faith and what is really important in life."
Growing up they enjoyed singing together at church, at school and at home -- especially gospel songs.
Those songs helped them through their lives, and who would have known what would lie ahead of them, she said.
"There was one song that Felton sang that has helped me all through this ordeal to know that he had this deep faith and that he had these words implanted in his heart," she said. "They have given me strength and assurance all of this time."
Davis loved the farm and the country, Royall said.
Even at N.C. State University he found a way to stay in touch with farm life, she said.
"It was hard for him, after all he was used to getting up and milking cows before he got on the school bus every day," Royall said.
And there he was at N.C. State with nothing to do but study.
"So it wasn't long before he finagled his way into the State College dairy farm," she said. "So he still got to milk cows in the morning and every evening and go to school. He accomplished a whole lot at one time."
During that time Royall was also attending college in Raleigh.
Davis picked her up one evening and carried her to the dairy farm because he needed help typing a paper.
Royall said she could type, but her brother couldn't.
"So he had a bale of hay sitting there with an old manual Royal typewriter sitting on it, and he had a bale of hay for me to sit on," she said. "And there I sat and I typed. But what sweet memories they are."
After college Davis married and accepted his commission in the Air Force. They left to start their life as a military family and to raise their children, Royall said.
"He wrote the sweetest letters home," Royall said. "He would write mom and dad and say 'I have got the best wife. She is wonderful.' He loved her so much and was so happy.
If you wanted to see a guy's eyes light up just let him be with his Sue and his children. He was a happy man. Family was so important. Church was really important, too."
Wherever he was stationed, he quickly connected with a Methodist church, she said.
Davis' words were heard at the service as well as the Rev. Jim Huskins read a letter that Davis had written many years ago about his faith.
"I was born and reared on a farm in a family that believes in the Christian way of life and tries to live it," Huskins read. "Until I began college we attended church and Sunday school every Sunday together. My father was superintendent of the Sunday school for 15 years, and my mother taught the adult class until poor health prevented this.
"My family had nightly devotions together, and each member was taught a prayer until he was old enough to say a prayer of his own. Being brought up in such a Christian atmosphere is something that I can more fully appreciate now than when I was in school."
Davis wrote of joining the church at the age of 8 and being involved in church activities as a teenager and developing an interest in Christian service.
"I can feel that this close, constant contact with Christ's work has caused me to grow and broaden my outlook in life," Huskins read. "I look at this as a continuous process and try, although sometimes I fail sadly, to live a Christian life whatever I may be."
There always will be wars and rumors of wars and having freedom is no guarantee of maintaining freedom, Huskins said.
"We gather here to pay homage to one who has fallen in the struggle to maintain the freedom of this nation," he said. "We recognize all who have served in this great effort over the past 200 years, those living and those now dead who stood ready.
"We recognize and salute those who answered the call to do battle with the enemies of our nation. And in this particular incident it is very clear to us who lived through this time that not all the battles fought by American men and women have been considered righteous by all American citizens."
But the veteran did not wonder, Huskins said.
The veteran did not often question the call of duty, but most often simply believed in the government of the people, he said.
The veteran is one who has served in the ultimate belief that because freedom is a gift, it is to be treasured and maintained at even the greatest cost, Huskins said.
Friday's funeral service was followed with burial with full military honors performed by the 4th Honor Guard, Seymour Johnson AFB, in the Eastern Carolina State Veterans Cemetery, where Davis was laid to rest alongside his wife.
The funeral procession arrived at the cemetery around 2 p.m., led by motorcycle riders from the Patriot Guard. Behind them came the hearse carrying Davis's remains, as well as the vehicles carrying Davis's family. The hearse came to stop at the shelter area, where a Air Force service members removed Davis's casket and brought it under the structure as the military members stood at attention, saluting.
Col. Christopher Sage, 4th Fighter Wing commander, folded the flag over Davis' casket, and presented it to his daughter, Martha Morton, along with flags for Davis' two sons, retired Air Force Col. Alan Davis and retired Lt. Col. Edgar Felton Davis II.
After the ceremony, Alan Davis read a statement in which he thanked the U.S. government and the community of Wayne County for never giving up on his father.
"As Americans we're grateful God placed Felton in a country and in a community that understands and values his service, his sacrifice, and places an emphasis on bringing him home and bringing home those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in foreign lands," he said. "We appreciate the efforts of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and the other organizations that played a part in Felton's case over the last 50 years."
Alan's voice broke, and he paused for a moment to collect himself. His brother Edgar patted him on the back while he gained his composure.
"The journey to bring our father home was long, and with gaps," Alan said, fighting back tears. "But their work spanned years, and we would like to thank the individuals that never stopped looking and made this closure possible."
Alan said that the family was "overwhelmed" by the response from the Goldsboro and Wayne County community, including that of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
"There is no doubt in our minds that his service is understood and appreciated in this community," he said. "We're just greatly appreciative of what the community did out here."
Edgar Davis II said that, as a retired military serviceman, he was proud of the major undertaking that was his father's recovery.
"It makes you proud, it really does. I think everyone can take some pride in knowing that this government, this military doesn't leave anybody behind, and they are continuously looking," he said. "It's important to remind the public that there are still men missing, and we want them all home."