It has been more than five decades since Montebello native and U.S. Navy journalist Raul Guerra went missing after being shot down near Da Nang, Vietnam.
The fallen serviceman was laid to rest with full military honors Thursday at Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuaries in Whittier following a service at nearby St. Alphonsus Catholic Church. But it took years of legal wrangling and investigative work to identify Guerra's body and finally bring him home.
Leading those efforts has been his childhood friend, Ruben Valencia, who also served in Vietnam.
"It was not just a friendship; it was a brotherhood. We were brothers," Valencia said. "And I think any brother would go look for his brother."
The mission to get Guerra home was complicated by the fact that he had been adopted in Mexico, something he and most of his loved ones apparently never knew.
In 2007, the remains of the other Navy officers in the Oct. 8, 1967 jet crash that killed him were all identified and buried at Arlington National Cemetery, according to Whittier Daily News. But the U.S. Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency struggled to identify Guerra's body since his adoption left his birth family virtually unknown.
"This was my friend who was supposed to come back and we were supposed to grow old together, raise our families…" Valencia told KTLA the day before the burial, when other veterans had gathered to honor Guerra.
Valencia and other loved ones, including Guerra's fiancee at the time of his death, organized and pushed for the identification of his remains.
His identification and the return of his remains from Hawaii to Southern California was announced in late February by Rep. Linda Sanchez, who represents the congressional district that includes Montebello.
Before enlisting in the Navy in 1966, then-24-year-old Guerra had served as co-editor of the campus newspaper at East Angeles College and worked for the Montebello News, according to the Daily News.
He was assigned to the USS Oriskany with war hero and former Sen. John McCain. He died in the line of duty the following year.
"It feels like this is the beginning of the closure," said Mary Barrow Sommerlott, who was engaged to Guerra at the time of his death. She said she appreciates finally being able to visit his gravesite.
Valencia said he was planning on doing exactly that once Thursday's services was over, saying he planned to bring his lunch to visit Guerra and "just reminisce."