GLEN CARBON, Ill. (AP) -- Told that Randy Dalton was killed during the Vietnam War, his family in southwestern Illinois wondered for decades if their loved one, killed with an Army pal when their helicopter was shot down in Cambodia, would ever make his way home.
On Sunday, 40 years to the day since Dalton died, that cloud -- and the serviceman's remains -- finally will be laid to rest.
Dalton will be buried next to his parents with full military honors at a Glen Carbon's Sunset Hill Cemetery, ending his long journey home after years of painstaking efforts to identify the Army specialist's remains.
"It puts closure to this," Dalton's stepmother, Collinsville City Council member Liz Dalton, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "No longer will we wonder, `Is he still alive?' Even though the (medic) said he was dead, you always wonder."
Dalton was from Collinsville, where his late dad served as mayor in the early 1990s. He was just 20 when the scout helicopter he was occupying with two other men was shot down and made a crash landing in Cambodia during a reconnaissance mission near the South Vietnam border.
A medic who arrived on a rescue helicopter found one of the first helicopter's crewmen to be dead and tried to revive Dalton, who stopped breathing during the resuscitation efforts. Rescuers had to leave the bodies of the two dead men behind because of enemy fire.
When U.S. troops returned the next day to retrieve the bodies, the bodies were gone.
In 1989, officials in Hanoi turned over three boxes of remains to the U.S. government, though it took years to go through the remains and secure identifications before Dalton's relatives were asked last winter to submit DNA samples.
In March, Dalton's family learned that his remains had been identified.
"Somebody worked very hard at this," another of Dalton's sisters, Karen Dalton Kloster of St. Louis, told the Post-Dispatch. "And I'm just flat-out amazed. Somebody was very diligent. We're very, very happy."
Patty Hopper, a founding member of the Arizona-based POW/MIA nonprofit group called Task Force Omega Inc., said there are about 1,700 Americans from the Vietnam War listed as prisoners of war or missing and unaccounted for.
The Belleville News-Democrat reports that the Defense Department lists more than 83,000 military personnel still accounted for as of last week, the vast majority from World War II.
"In Randy's case, we knew he was gone because a medic was taking care of him when Randy died," Hopper said. "You know he didn't spend years in captivity being exposed to God knows what."
Liz Dalton, the stepmother, said the Department of Defense kept the family informed and sent packets every three months about the search efforts.
"We felt they were doing as much as they could," added Dalton, who was married to Randy Dalton's father for 30 years before he died in 2005 at age 80. "I would have loved for my husband to know they found Randy."
The family was given the option of burial at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington or Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, but it decided it would be more fitting for Randy Dalton to be laid to rest beside his parents.