JACKSONVILLE — Navy pilot Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, the long-missing first casualty of the first Gulf War, was finally laid to rest Friday in his adopted hometown as thousands of people lined the streets to watch a funeral procession pass his school, church and former military base.
Speicher was shot down in 1991 on the first night of the Gulf War. For more than 18 years, no one knew whether he was killed or being held prisoner in Iraq until his remains were discovered in the desert west of Baghdad last month.
"Eighteen years, six months and 11 days, that needs to be a record that is never broken," said Buddy Harris, a former Navy pilot and friend. Harris married Speicher's widow, Joanne, and helped raise Speicher's son and daughter.
Motorcycles led Speicher's hearse and family following in a limousine along a 30-mile route of sites special to Speicher, including the site of the former Cecil Field Naval Air Station where Speicher's squadron, the Sunliners, was based before he left on the USS Saratoga for the Gulf War.
At a monument for war veterans where Speicher's name was engraved in 1995, military officials, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Jacksonville mayor spoke talked about his military service. Dozens of roses were placed against the wall, where an eternal flame burns. Later, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office fired a 21-gun salute.
Speicher was buried privately at Jacksonville Memory Gardens.
On Aug. 2, the Pentagon disclosed that Marines had recovered bones and skeletal fragments identified as those of Speicher, who disappeared at age 33.