Vietnam vet MIA for 40 years buried in Cypress

For many military veterans and their families, the homecoming after the war is an indelible happy memory. Unless an honor guard accompanies that veteran home. One Southern California family waited 40 years for the remains of their soldier - a son, a brother, and a nephew - to return. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez attended the funeral and has this story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: A wide pine tree at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Cypress shielded the family and friends of U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Luis Palacios.

Pete Palacios: They laid my brother to rest, finally after 40 years.

Guzman-Lopez: Brother Pete Palacios was on active duty in June of 1968 when he got word that the helicopter transporting his brother had crashed in a Vietnam jungle. His younger brother's body was never recovered. But last year, the older Palacios said, the federal government told the family it was taking Luis Palacios off the "Missing In Action" list.

Pete Palacios: They had some remains that was confirmed through DNA, that was supplied by the family, my sister. And before it was just an empty grave, it was no grave at all; it was a plaque.

Guzman-Lopez: Luis Palacios was one of 10 brothers and sisters. Four of those brothers served in the military. Pete Palacios said his younger brother Luis had wanted to join the Marines before he graduated from high school.

Pete Palacios: As a family we believed in, you know, freedom, and what the price was. So we weren't asked to go. We joined.

Guzman-Lopez: Yolanda Montiel, who was 10 years old when her brother's helicopter crashed, harbors few memories of the years before Luis Palacios died. But she said the years since then have been hard to forget.

Yolanda Montiel: I watched my mom cry, you know, all the years that she waited for him to come home. And she died without. When she went, she reunited with him. She did.

Guzman-Lopez: One of the last people to see her brother alive was Bill Negron. He was the 31-year-old Army captain in charge of Luis Palacios and more than a hundred other soldiers. Negron admitted he couldn't say much about him.

Bill Negron: When you got 150 guys it's hard to get to know them. He was a mortar man, which is a pretty important job. And he covers this. As a soldier I can't tell. I didn't get that close to him. He was only with me for four days.

Guzman-Lopez: Duty propelled Negron from his home in Arizona to the burial in Cypress. Negron said 42 U.S. soldiers died in the battle that claimed Luis Palacios's life. Palacios is the last soldier under Negron's command to return home, alive or dead.

Bill Negron, who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after nearly 30 years in the Army, said Americans tend to express more appreciation for military veterans' service now than during the Vietnam War era.

Negron: No one's ever spit on me. But I had to push an old lady once. In the LAX who jumped in front of me and told me I was a killer. I told her to get out of my way and she didn't, so I pushed her, and I went to my airplane.

Guzman-Lopez: Yolanda Montiel is proud of her brothers' military service. She said Luis Palacios's burial, four days before Veterans' Day, should remind everyone of what men and women in uniform put on the line.

Montiel: We need to stop and say thank you. They do a lot. When they come home, we need to pay the right respect that they deserve.

Guzman-Lopez: Montiel said this as she held the tightly folded American flag that had draped her brother's coffin, and clutched in her other hand the crucifix that had rested inside it.