Thousands lined the streets of Morrilton and other Conway County communities Thursday, paying their respects to PFC James Maxwell, who was killed in the final battle of the Vietnam War.
Only recently did the military identify Maxwell's remains, found buried in the sand at Koh Tang beach at low tide. The Cambodian island is the site of the Mayaguez Incident, where American soldiers ran into a significantly larger Khmer Rouge force, already entrenched and waiting.
On May 15, 1975, the helicopter Maxwell was flying in was shot down before it made the beach. The young Navy corpsman and 11 others were killed; some by two rockets that hit their CH53 Knife, and others died in the water about 150 feet offshore.
A small group of the men that survived that day, all members of the Koh Tang/Mayaguez Veterans Operation, were in Morrilton Thursday for Maxwell's funeral.
One of them, Jesse de los Santos, said he had to be there.
"Today it's all about my brother we're going to lay down," de los Santos said. "I hope his family is at ease, and God bless them."
"He's my brother. And he deserves that," Bailey said.
But even the funeral would do little to put his mind at ease, Bailey admitted.
"There won't be any closure for me, or any one of my brothers, until they shut the lid on each one of us," he said.
Tom Noble, one of the unit commanders, called the recovery of Maxwell's remains, 37 years after his death, a gift from God. He said Thursday's 30-mile ride from the funeral home to the church brought him peace.
"You come through the
beautiful hills of Arkansas, and you walk down through there. You
look and say, this is where Ricky grew up. He was an 18-year-old kid.
And he's coming home," Noble said.