JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The remains of Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher were headed back to his Florida home Thursday, 18 years after his FA-18 Hornet was shot down on the first night of the Gulf War in 1991.

For nearly two decades after Speicher disappeared over the Iraq desert, his family pushed the Defense Department to find out what had happened. On Aug. 2, the Pentagon disclosed that Marines had recovered Speicher's bones and skeletal fragments — enough for a positive identification.

Speicher's casket was due to arrive at Jacksonville Naval Air Station around 3 p.m. Thursday. Speicher was a native of Kansas City. Mo., who moved to Florida when he was a teenager.

His body was being accompanied by his best friend, Buddy Harris, who married Speicher's widow, Joanne, on July 4, 1992.

Speicher's casket will be taken to All Saints Chapel on base, where it will remain overnight. People with access to the base will be able to pay their respects at the chapel.

On Friday, Speicher's hearse will pass important locations from his life, including Lake Shore United Methodist Church, where Speicher was a Sunday school teacher, and Forrest High School, where he graduated in 1975.

Jeff Richardson, a former pilot and board member of the Free Scott Speicher group founded after he went missing, said the high school's Air Force Junior ROTC will line the road as the motorcade passes the school.

At the former Cecil Field Naval Air Station on the far west side of Jacksonville, where Speicher's FA-18 Sunliner squadron was based, a memorial commemorates his departure on his final mission.

Richardson said it was his job to help strap Speicher in his plane and that Speicher influenced him to become a pilot.

When he heard Speicher had been shot down, he said, "It was a gut punch." When the body was found, "that was the second gut punch."

The Navy is sending FA-18 jets to Jacksonville for a memorial fly-over with the missing man formation, an aerial salute to fallen pilots in which one plane in a four-aircraft group makes a quick vertical climb while the others continue level flight. Another Navy fly-over in Speicher's honor is scheduled in Tallahassee during the FSU-Miami game on Sept. 7.

Speicher graduated from Florida State University in 1980 with a business administration degree. The school's $1.2 million Scott Speicher Tennis Complex was dedicated in 1993.

Speicher will be buried in a private family ceremony at Jacksonville Memory Gardens after the motorcade.

Defense officials originally declared Speicher killed in action hours after his plane was shot down over west-central Iraq. Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney announced on television that Speicher was the first casualty of the Gulf War.

Ten years after the crash, the Navy changed Speicher's status to missing in action, citing an absence of evidence that Speicher had died. In October 2002, the Navy switched his status to "missing/captured," although it has never said what evidence it had that he may have been in captivity.

Over the years, critics contended the Navy had not done enough, particularly right after the crash, to search for the 33-year-old pilot.

The military recovered bones and multiple skeletal fragments, and Speicher was identified by matching a jawbone and dental records and later by DNA reference samples from family members.