Eleven years to the day after the downing of her husband's fighter plane over North Vietnam put her life in limbo. Pat Mearns watched quietly yesterday as a horse-drawn caisson took the casket of Col. Arthur S. Mearns to an Arlington National Cemetery graveside for burial.
The hallmarks of full military honors - the flag-drapped casket, searing notes of the bugle - attended the burial. They were requested by Pat Mearns "in honor of those who have yet to return." Yesterday's cereemony took place on the day 59 years ago that an armistice to end all wars was celebrated.
The cause of those who have yet to return has occupied much of the energies of Pat Mearns, filling the void caused by her husband's uncertain status as one of the thousands of American servicemen listed as missing in action. She joined the National League of Families of Servicemen Missing in Action and rose to a position of national leadership.
In addition, she raised their two young girls, Mary Ann and Frances, and worked as an educator and nurse in the Los Angeles school system. For her, yesterday was both an end and a beginning.
"We will leave that work (with MIAs) behind now. We have to pick up our lives and start again." She said yesterday.
Years of doubt were finally resolved when Mearns' status as missing in action was finally changed on Oct. 26, the day his body was positively identified. He was one of 22 bodies released to the United States by Vietnamese officials on Sept. 30.
It had been another cloudy Veterans Day when Mearns set out as the flight leader of a squardron of F-105s for a target area northeast of Hanoi. After a successful "strike" the group was returning home when enemy groundfire hit and drowned Mearns' plane.
He volunteered for duty in Korea in 1955. "He loved to fly," said another mourner, Congressman Robert Dornan (R-Calif.).
"We have to make sure this war doesn't happen again," said Mrs. Mearns. "There are over 600 still missing in action and this ceremony, in a way, is honoring them."
"The war is over for Art," said Dornan who knew of Mearns through the work Pat had one done for MIA families in his district.
The war, the peace and the uncertainly the Mearns' family has had to live with hung over the ceremony like the clouds that filled yesterday's sky. Many who attended the ceremony were fellow fliers, and many had learned their flying from him during the years he taught at Luke Air Force Base.
"For a war that went on too long, the pain is at an end. For someone who waited for so long, the long war and its pain are over," said Lt. Col. Bruce Cooke, the chaplain who conducted the service.
And then, in one of those moments of amazing coincidence, the sun broke through the clouds as the family was presented the flags from the casket. A smile came to Pat Mearns' face promising a new beginning.
"We will start again," she said.