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After 42 years, pilot's remains return to Soldotna family

Sue Stein of Soldotna, a former Mrs. Alaska, has been reunited with the memory of her long-lost father, a pilot shot down during a bombing mission over North Vietnam in 1967.

After he had been listed for 42 years as missing in action, the remains of her father, Air Force Maj. Russell Goodman, were returned to family members this week.

"There's very little there, just some bones, but they identified through DNA that it's him," Sue's father-in-law, Dave Stein, said from his home in Soldotna.

Sue Stein and her husband, George, left Saturday for Hawaii, where the forensic identification took place. The Steins and other family members met there to accept her father's remains, which were then sent in a casket to Nevada. There the airman will be honored at a ceremony at Nellis Air Force Base, home of the elite USAF Thunderbird demonstration team.

"He was at one time the narrator for the Thunderbirds," Dave Stein explained. "The kids are real proud of that."

Goodman was assigned to the Thunderbirds but was flying with the U.S. Navy on an exchange program at the time of his death, according to a Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office press release.

On Feb. 20, 1967, he and Navy Lt. Gary L. Thornton took off in an F-4B Phantom from the USS Enterprise for a bombing mission over a railroad yard in Thanh Hoa Province, North Vietnam. The fighter/bomber was struck by anti-aircraft fire, and Goodman went down with the plane. Thornton ejected and survived. He was captured and held as a prison of war until his release in 1973.

Thornton will be at the ceremony in Hawaii, Dave Stein said.

Between October 1993 and March 2008, U.S. and Vietnamese teams twice investigated the crash site and conducted excavations.

Sue Stein got the news about her father in November, about a week after her mother, June Goodman, died in Soldotna, Dave Stein said. The two had been high school sweethearts. The plan, he said, is to bring his remains to Alaska after the ceremony and scatter them with Sue's mother's ashes in the mountains.

Find Debra McKinney online at adn.com/contact/dmckinney or call 257-4465.