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After 44 Years, Burial Is Bittersweet For Family Of Missing U.S. Officer

VFW Post 3377

The family of a missing Air Force pilot will finally lay him to rest Saturday at a cemetery in Walla Walla. The military retrieved the remains of Major Larry J. Hanley, 44 years after he died in the Vietnam War.

In 1969, Hanley was 26 years old when his family learned that his plane went down over Laos.

“All these years we anticipated that he would not come back alive, but you still wanted to know what happened,” says Darlene Allen of Kirkland, Wash., one of Hanley's older sisters.

She kept an old flight helmet of her brother's for years. A few strands of his red hair still in that helmet last year helped the military confirm a DNA match from a newly found crash site. It's believed he died on impact.

Hanley's other sister JoAnn Aliverti of Walla Walla says finally burying his remains is “bittersweet.” “We, you know, are sad that he did die," she says. "But we're now celebrating bringing him home.”

An internal Pentagon report recently turned up by the Associated Press describes a “dysfunctional and sluggish” system that searches for the remains of missing soldiers. It’s believed there are more than 80,000 servicemembers going back to World War II who still haven't been found.