The Holton family in Butte knew Robert Holton likely died in Vietnam but after 48 years, he’s finally coming home.
“I wish my dad would have been here,” said Robert’s younger brother Bill Holton. “My dad died just two years ago at 97, and he always said, ‘oh they’ll get Bob home,’ and it turned out they did. And it brings closure. It brings up some raw emotions too.”
Robert Holton’s remains will be returning to Butte next week after the U.S. Air Force confirmed last month his remains were found at a crash site.
Bill remembers that day in 1969 when they learned his brother’s plane crashed.
“My poor mother and father, it was really a tragedy for them, when the Air Force came to the door,” he said. “My mother tried to shut the door before they could tell them what happened.
“I was working and when I got there that night, they told us about it and we all sat there and cried for a while. It’s something that you should never bury your children.”
Capt. Robert Holton went missing along with his pilot Major William Campbell on Jan. 29th 1969 when the F-4 Phantom they were flying was hit by enemy fire and crashed somewhere over Laos.
“They saw trucks coming down the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Bob peeled off. They say he dropped his ordinances and saw a large explosion on the ground, but they were under heavy fire and very low fuel and he could only make a pass or two over the area. He saw no parachutes,” Holton said.
Bill and his wife, Judy, praise the National League of Families and the Air Force recovery team for continuing to search for the missing pilot.
There are still 1,600 troops listed as missing from that war. “They never quit looking and our only prayers are that everybody who’s missing gets the same news we got,” Holton said.
A member of the Air Force recovery team that found the missing man told Bill about their daily ritual.
“He said, ‘we put their pictures on our wall,’ he said, ‘every morning when we get up, every man in that walks up and taps the picture and says today,’” Holton said.
Robert Holton will have his day to return home. The funeral service will be July 22 at 10 a.m. at Wayrynen-Richards Funeral home.