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Harnett County veteran laid to rest

Posted November 11, 2015

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— A Harnett County veteran was honored Wednesday as loved ones and community members paid a special tribute to the hometown hero who was killed in Vietnam.

Staff Sgt. Donald Stewart, of Coats, was serving in the Vietnam War when he was killed in action in a plane crash on Dec. 11, 1965, in Phú Yên. He left behind a wife, Wandra Raynor, and an unborn daughter, Dona, who had been working to bring his remains home.

On Monday, their determination paid off and his remains returned to North Carolina.

"I feel like a weight has been lifted," Wandra Rayor said. "I am just so thankful because all of these people helped me get him home. They have been wonderful. I have had prayers, blessings, calls, encouragement."

In 2007, both Raynor and her daughter traveled to Vietnam to see the site of the crash themselves. A few years later, they learned about a researcher who had some remains collected from the crash. He asked for a DNA sample, and there was a match.

On Wednesday, during a Veteran's Day celebration in Lillington, Stewart's name was added to the Harnett County Veterans Memorial.

Private first class Neal Albert Denning's name was also added to the granite memorial. His cousin, Joseph Lucas was there to honor the fallen Marine.

"I grew up with him," Lucas said. "We did a lot of things together throughout our lives. Our family is a very tight-knit family and for him to sacrifice his education and go join the Marines and be able to serve his country - it is a great sacrifice. It is a great thing."

Hours later, Stewart was finally laid to rest in a flag-draped coffin at the Lakeside Memorial Gardens in Angier.

His wife and daughter said they were finally at peace.

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