Julie Tam, NBCDFW.com
The remains of two U.S. airmen from the Vietnam War who had been missing in action for more than four decades arrived in North Texas early Thursday morning.
The plane carrying the men's remains arrived at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport before 6 a.m. to special military honors.
The remains arrived in a single casket draped with the American flag. Both families said they fought together, flew together and died together, and so they would be buried together.
The airmen disappeared Nov. 12, 1969 while escorting an AC-130 ground attack aircraft on a mission along the Ho Chi Minh trail in Khammouan Province, Laos.
The Pentagon says anti-aircraft fire struck Tucci and Dennany's F-4D Phantom Fighter. Tucci was the pilot and Dennany the weapons system officer.
Dennany is survived by four daughters and a son, his wife died in 2002. Tucci is survived by his wife and mother.
The families, who asked not be to be on camera, said they were relieved and overwhelmed with emotion to have closure.
A funeral with full military honors is scheduled Friday for both airmen at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. The North Texas Patriot Guard Riders plan to accompany the funeral procession.
"It will be sharing my pride with my grandsons," James E. Dennany Jr. of Humble, Texas, said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press Wednesday night.
The younger Dennany, said his father's military duties kept him away from home much of the time, even before his final stint in Southeast Asia.
"I have very few memories," the son said.
After his father disappeared, the family clung to the possibility that the airman had survived and been taken prisoner, the son said.
The elder Dennany's wife, Emily Dennany, would address care packages to him with such items as bouillon cubes, the son recalled. They would be returned unopened.
James Dennany Jr. said he suspected the truth, despite the fervent prayers that his father would return safe.
"I would cry myself to sleep," he said. "You don't know what you have till you lose it."
Efforts to find the remains of Dennany and Tucci picked up in 1994, when a joint U.S.-Laotian government team followed leads and interviewed villagers in the area, the Pentagon said.
That effort failed, but another search team in 1999 discovered wreckage and some human remains in the area. Further interviews and more digging over the next decade yielded more material.
Based on "forensic tools and circumstantial evidence," the Defense Department's POW/Missing Personnel Office determined it had found the remains of Dennany and Tucci. The identification was made Sept. 8.
Dennany was born in the Kalamazoo-area community of Mattawan, Mich. He married Emily Hon in 1956 in Brownsville, Texas. She died in Brownsville in 2002.
Tucci was on his second tour of duty in Southeast Asia after flying 181 missions on his first tour, according to the website virtualwall.org that catalogues those whose names are enshrined on the Vietnam War memorial in Washington.
Military Honors at DFW Airport
As the flight from Honolulu arrived at DFW Airport Thursday morning, members of the Air Force saluted their fallen comrades.
"When these men come home, it's like my dad's coming home all over again," Valerie Everett, an American Airlines flight attendant and daughter of a Marine Corps pilot, said.
Military family members and veterans who work for American Airlines stood side by side to welcome home the remains of Dennany and Tucci.
"It's just relief and you know, finally, he's home. You can lay it to rest. And this is some closure for the family," Tonya Pinkos, honor escort coordinator for Veteran Military Employee Resource Group of American's parent company, AMR, said.
The passengers and flight crew on AA flight 8 also observed a moment of silence to honor the two airmen who were flying with them.