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Park Rapids vets pay tribute to Fargo man whose remains returned home after 40 years

An honor guard from the Grand Forks Air Force Base walks to receive the casket containing the remains of U.S. Air Force Maj. Thomas Beyer on Wednesday night at Hector International Airport in Fargo. The Vietnam War pilot had been missing for more than four decades. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Maj. Thomas Beyer died more than 40 years ago when the plane he was piloting was lost in the jungles and violence of the Vietnam War.

He returned home to Fargo on Wednesday night to gently falling snow.

Family and friends were also there when a plane carrying Beyer's casket landed about 9 p.m. at Hector International Airport.

Among them was Beyer's sister, Libby Schoemehl, who traveled from California to be with her brother one last time.

Schoemehl said her DNA was used in the testing that confirmed that remains found earlier this year in Vietnam were those of her brother.

"It's been a real rough road," she said, referring to the decades spent wondering about the fate of her brother, who is presumed to have been shot down by enemy fire in July 1968.

Family members were told earlier this year that personal items and bone fragments believed to be Beyer's had been recovered in Vietnam.

On Wednesday night, Beyer's wife, Karen, who lives in Fargo, and the couple's two grown children, Steve and Sandra, were on the plane carrying his remains home.

They were met by many well-wishers, including military color guards from around the region.

Eight veterans from the Star of the North Marine Corps League came from Park Rapids, Minn., to pay their respects to Beyer and to all service personnel who remain missing in action.

A number of residents from Park Rapids who served in foreign wars have never been accounted for, said Fred Whiteside, one of the Park Rapids veterans.

Beyer was a 1959 graduate of Fargo's Shanley High School, and several of his classmates were at the airport Wednesday.

Mike Anderson said he hunted and played basketball with Beyer.

It was gratifying, he said, to see the number of people who turned out to honor his classmate and friend.

"Some know him, a lot do not," Anderson said.

"But, it gives me a great deal of satisfaction," Anderson said. "This homecoming suits and serves him very well."

Russel Stabler, a Vietnam veteran from Hunter, N.D., helped plan the gathering at the airport Wednesday.

He said the return of a fellow serviceman who had been missing for so long "means a heck of a lot."

"It gives us a chance to finally honor him," Stabler said. "He's returned to our soil. He's no longer MIA, and he is going to be with his family."

Schoemehl said her brother loved being a pilot, but he didn't talk much about his Air Force job, at least not with her.

Schoemehl's husband, Tony, who was a Navy pilot during the war, said he had a number of conversations with his brother-in-law about what it meant to Beyer to serve in the Armed Forces.

"I think he was very proud of it. All of us were," Tony Schoemehl said.