There were poignant scenes at Arlington Cemetery in Washington earlier this week when a war hero with Buttevant ancestry was finally laid to rest.

Sergeant William Kevin Colwell, whose grand-mother Ellen Johnson emigrated from Buttevant over a century ago, was buried with full military honours 46 years after being shot down during combat in the Vietnam War.

Sgt. Colwell, who has been posthumously promoted, took off with five others on a combat mission in an Air Force plane nicknamed Spooky on Christmas Eve 1965. The crew sent out a ‘mayday’ signal while flying over Laos, and after that all contact was lost. Despite a number of excavations of the crash site the remains of the six were not located until late last year, and, following months of extensive efforts to identify the men, a breakthrough came recently when with the help of family DNA William Colwell and his fellow combatants were positively identified.

Sgt. Colwell’s grand-mother Ellen Johnson grew up in Barrack Place, Buttevant, and emigrated to the United States in 1884 with her brother James and sisters Julia and Annie. Members of the Johnson family including Michael Johnson subsequently moved to Military Road, Buttevant, which is still the family home. Peggy Thornhill, widow of Cork All-Ireland hurler Batt Thornhill, is another close relative of Sgt. Colwell’s.

For almost half a century the relatives of the dead airmen have experienced trauma and distress as their loved ones were listed as missing. The discovery and the positive identification allows them to grieve and brings to a close something that was acknowledged by Mike Johnson of Buttevant, a second cousin of the dead airman, when he spoke to the Vale Star this week: “We are relieved that the remains have been located and we now have closure and a place to visit.”