"As much as it is a sad day, it's actually a joyous day for our family -- he's back in his hometown," said Ann Famigliette of Glen Cove, who was 17 when she learned in 1965 that her uncle had vanished in action.
Chief Master Sgt. Colwell will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery on July 9 along with other members of the crew of the AC-47 "Spooky" gunship that was shot down.
Colwell, who served in the Army in World War II and the Air Force in Korea, was 44 when he was killed. His three siblings passed away not knowing what had become of him, and his wife Ingrid died in a house fire two years after he went missing.
Yesterday, an Air Force honor guard carried Colwell's flag-draped coffin past a line of saluting members of the Glen Cove Veterans of Foreign Wars into the church where about 150 people paid their respects.
"We were left without that moment of saying goodbye, of saying 'thank you' for what you did, not only for his family . . . but for this nation, for all of us," said the Rev. Daniel Nash in his homily.
Colwell became a surrogate father for Famigliette, whose own father suffered from Alzheimer's symptoms and was institutionalized.
While serving in Europe and other parts of the world, he would send her dolls. She kept them all.
"He always made me feel very special," she said in her eulogy. "How we all wished that some word would come."
She ended her remarks with these words: "Welcome home. You have returned from your mission a hero. You can rest in peace."
Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi, who spoke at the funeral and is a family friend -- Famigliette was an aide to former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi -- said the service helps put Memorial Day in perspective.
"It's really a solemn day that we celebrate," he said. "What these men and women did was sacrifice."