It was a homecoming decades in the making, and a welcome fit for a hero.
Hundreds of people lined Wayne Memorial Drive from New Hope Road to Seymour Funeral Home and Cremation Center Thursday to watch as the remains of Air Force Col. Edgar Felton Davis arrived in Goldsboro.
Nearly 50 years after his aircraft was shot down near the city of Sepone in Laos, Davis' remains returned to his home city flanked by a swarm of Patriot Guard motorcycles and American flags.
The remains arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport just after 11 a.m. Thursday. From there, a succession of state and local law enforcement agencies, along with riders from the Patriot Guard, escorted the hearse carrying Davis all the way to Goldsboro.
Outside the Maxwell Center, people stood at the corner of Wayne Memorial Drive and New Hope Road, waiting for the procession to arrive. Karen and John Reinier and Tracey Best stood together near their car, parked alongside the road. Himself an Air Force veteran, John Reinier said that it was good to see so many people honoring Davis' memory.
"I served 22 years in the military, the Air Force. He deserves this," he said. "Especially with the times we live in now, where some people have a problem with the military, this shows that people in Wayne County can come out for something like this."
Standing nearby was Barbara Howard. Her connection to Davis was more personal -- the two of them were members of the 4-H honors club together in 1954.
"We went to the 4-H national conference together. He was a good guy to be around," Howard said. "If he could have known what this was all about, he would have been so honored."
All along Wayne Memorial Drive, people gathered along sidewalks, in parking lots and wherever enough grassy space could be found to set up chairs. They waved American flags, matching the huge flags suspended above the street from the ladders of fire trucks. Large crowds coalesced outside the Maxwell Center, Wayne Community College and Wayne Memorial Hospital, with individuals and smaller pockets dotting the sidewalks in between and all the way down the rest of the street.
Among those in the crowd was Alice Adams, who went through all of grade school with Davis and graduated with him at Brogden High School.
Though the two did not stay in touch after graduation, Adams still remembers learning of his disappearance and his eventual location.
"We were all so heartbroken when we wasn't found," she said, her voice choking up. "When they found him, I actually cried. When you go through 12 years of school with someone, you're like family."
Around 3:30 p.m. the procession finally arrived in Goldsboro.
Nearly 150 riders from the Patriot Guard rode in front and behind the hearse and vehicles carrying Davis' living family members, escorting them from the U.S. 70 Bypass exit all the way to Seymour Funeral Home.
The bikers pulled in -- followed by the hearse -- and wrapped around the building where they came to a stop.
As Davis' casket was carried out of the hearse, the Patriot Guard riders snapped to attention, saluting the fallen airman. With Davis' remains safely inside the home, the riders returned to their bikes and dispersed quickly.
Charles Bullock, assistant state captain of the Patriot Guard, said that the organization works to honor fallen warriors.
"We're here for the family, we come at the request of the family. It's to show respect for the family and the deceased," he said. "Sometimes, when there are no family members, we become the family."
Davis will be remembered during a funeral service at Providence United Methodist Church today at noon, after which he will be buried at the Eastern State Veterans Cemetery in a graveside service with full military honors.