WINTER HAVEN: Vietnam War M.I.A. Colonel laid to rest

Published on: July 11, 2018

U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, flew 70 combat missions during World War II and continued to serve into the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were discovered 52 years later during an excavation in April 2018. (Photo Courtesy the Stewart family)

After 52 years M.I.A., Colonel laid to rest

After volunteering to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission during the Vietnam War, Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II pilot, was shot down and declared missing in action in March 1966.

Since the tragic disappearance, Stewart’s family has searched endlessly for any information regarding what happened that day.

As of April 2018, 52 years of questions and prayers were finally answered.

Stewart’s wife Marnie and their six children were notified that his remains, along with a St. Christopher medal, were discovered during an excavation in Vietnam by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. From there, his journey home to Winter Haven, Fla. would begin.

“I prayed a lot over the years that this day would come,” said Marnie Stewart, now 94 years old. “And I prayed I’d still be here.”

After a flight from Hawaii to Tampa and a drive to Winter Haven, a formal full-honors funeral service was held for Peter at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018, where he was represented by his wife and children, Beth, Bill, Maggie, Kandi, Susie and Jim, along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

MacDill Air Force Base Honor Guard carries the casket of U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Stewart, an F-4C Phantom II aircraft pilot during the Vietnam War, during a military honors service at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Winter Haven, Fla., June 18, 2018. After volunteering to take another pilot’s place on a reconnaissance mission, Stewart’s aircraft was shot down in 1966 over Vietnam and was declared missing in action until his remains were recovered by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency during an excavation in April 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ashley Perdue)

“My grandfather, though I never met him, is one of the people I admire most,” said Margaret Stewart. “His work ethic, devotion to our country and love for my grandmother and his family live on through his legacy. I am proud to be his granddaughter.”

The service included a Mass, full military honors to include a Missing Man Formation executed by the 93rd Fighter Squadron, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., and burial.

“I think the experience has been surreal,” said Margaret. “For my family, it was well-deserved. Everyone is just so proud and honored to welcome him home. I think it’s going to bring a lot of peace for my family moving forward.”

During the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 Americans died and 1,700 are still unaccounted for. Even though these numbers are quite significant, the Stewart family can have peace knowing there is one more American who has returned home ­— their beloved husband, father, grandfather.

“Over the last few days, the amount of people who came to honor my father has been overwhelming,” said his son, Jim Stewart. “Today, almost 53 years later, I can still hear his voice and laugh and sometimes his presence. His legacy is more than just his six kids, but the airmen he served with.”

Col. Pete Stewart flew 70 combat missions in World War II, continued his service in the Korean War and then flew combat missions in Vietnam. His sacrifice will never be forgotten. 

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