The remains of a Marine aviator who was killed nearly 48 years ago in a bombing mission over Laos during the Vietnam War have been identified and are finally being returned home. Marine Corps 1st Lt. William Ryan was the radar intercept officer of a F-4B fighter-bomber when it was shot down on May 11, 1969 over Savannakhet Province, a region that borders Vietnam. The area was heavily bombed by U.S. forces during the war because it was crossed by the Ho Chi Minh trail, a network of roads cutting through the region’s thick jungles that the North Vietnamese used to supply their soldiers in South Vietnam.

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Ryan's jet was puling out of bombing run when it was hit by gunfire

Officials with the Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency -- the agency that recovers and identifies U.S. personnel killed in long-ago wars -- says the pilot of the jet was pulling out of the bombing run when it was hit by gunfire, causing the aircraft to go out of control. Officials say before the pilot bailed out he called several times for Ryan to eject, but received no response. The pilot ejected safely and was later rescued, but other pilots on the bombing raid never saw Ryan get out of the stricken jet.

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Because of the location inside Laos U.S. forces at the time weren’t able to recover Ryan’s body. He was declared deceased immediately after the mission but it wasn’t until February, 2016, when remains found during excavations at a crash site near the village of Ban Alang Noi, that those remains were sent to the agency’s lab for analysis. The remains were subsequently determined to be that of Ryan.

Ryan was killed a day before son's first birthday

A memorial page for Ryan, who had just turned 25 when he was shot down, says he was killed just one day before his son's first birthday and two days before he was scheduled to go on R&R and meet his wife in Hawaii.

The site says the young aviator had previously been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal and a Purple Heart after another jet he was in had been shot down. In that mission he was rescued by a helicopter crew after parachuting to safety.

Ryan grew up in Bogota, New Jersey, a borough about 20 miles outside of New York City. Interment services are pending.

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