USA — Fallen Airmen Laid to Rest After 38 Years

ARLINGTON, Va., June 18, 2010 — Uniden­ti­fied remains of 14 fall­en Air Force AC-130 gun­ship crewmem­bers were laid to rest at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery here yes­ter­day, near­ly 40 years after their air­craft was shot down over south­ern Laos.

Arlington National Cemetery
Fam­i­lies observe as an Air Force hon­or guard folds the flag that draped a cas­ket con­tain­ing uniden­ti­fied remains dur­ing a bur­ial ser­vice at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery, June 17, 2010. The cer­e­mo­ny hon­ored 14 air­men who were killed in March 1972 when their air­craft was shot down over south­ern Laos.
DoD pho­to by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Car­den
Click to enlarge

Lt. Col. Hen­ry P. Brauner, Lt. Col. Richard Castil­lo, Lt. Col. Irv­ing B. Ram­sow­er II, Lt. Col. Howard D. Stephen­son, Maj. Cur­tis D. Miller, Maj. Bar­clay B. Young, Capt. Richard C. Halpin, Capt. Charles J. Wanzel III, Chief Mas­ter Sgt. Edwin J. Pearce, Senior Mas­ter Sgt. James K. Can­i­ford, Senior Mas­ter Sgt. Robert E. Sim­mons, Senior Mas­ter Sgt. Edward D. Smith Jr., Mas­ter Sgt. Mer­lyn L. Paul­son and Mas­ter Sgt. William A. Todd were hon­ored in a group bur­ial with full mil­i­tary hon­ors in the cemetery’s Sec­tion 60.

The crew was killed in action March 29, 1972, in the midst of the Viet­nam War.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark D. Shack­elford pre­sent­ed an Amer­i­can flag to the fam­i­lies. Air Force Chap­lain (Capt.) Antho­ny Wade and Rev. Mar­tin McGill presided over the ser­vice.

Full mil­i­tary hon­ors includ­ed a flag-draped cas­ket and car­ry­ing team, a fir­ing par­ty, a band and bugler, a horse-drawn cais­son and escorts from the Air Force Hon­or Guard. All 14 names will be includ­ed on the head­stone.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the fam­i­lies of 13 of the air­men attend­ed the cer­e­mo­ny. Sev­er­al mem­bers of Rolling Thun­der, an advo­ca­cy group for the return of all pris­on­ers of war and those miss­ing in action, also attend­ed the ser­vice.

Remains for Halpin, Wen­zel, Can­i­ford, Pearce, Sim­mons, Smith and Todd were pos­i­tive­ly iden­ti­fied and returned to their fam­i­lies. Young and Can­i­ford were buried here indi­vid­u­al­ly in 2008, said Kaitlin Horst, a spokes­woman for the ceme­tery.

The remain­ing sev­en air­men could not be iden­ti­fied, but are account­ed for, Lar­ry Greer, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Joint Pris­on­ers of War and Miss­ing in Action Account­ing Com­mand, said in an inter­view today with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

Foren­sic anthro­pol­o­gists and sci­en­tists from the Defense Depart­ment are con­fi­dent all 14 air­men were involved in the crash, Greer said. The sci­en­tists used iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tools, cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence and DNA tests to match the crewmem­bers’ remains with their fam­i­lies, Greer said. Sci­en­tists also used den­tal com­par­isons to iden­ti­fy remains.

“All of these men have been account­ed for, and the fam­i­lies have accept­ed the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion,” Greer said. “These final, full-hon­or ser­vices are to rec­og­nize the sac­ri­fices that these men made and their fam­i­lies made, and all of us involved in this mis­sion feel it an hon­or to bring clo­sure to these fam­i­lies.”

The crew’s plane was shot down by a sur­face-to-air mis­sile dur­ing an armed recon­nais­sance mis­sion. Search and res­cue efforts were hin­dered because of heavy ene­my activ­i­ty in the area and were stopped after only a few days, Greer said.

The first remains were recov­ered in 1986 by a joint U.S.-Laos team, Greer said. Recov­ered items includ­ed two iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tags, life sup­port equip­ment and air­craft wreck­age, he added.

Between 1986 and 1998, nine mem­bers of the air­crew were pos­i­tive­ly iden­ti­fied. Fol­low-on sur­veys and exca­va­tions in 2005 and 2006 found more remains, per­son­al effects and oth­er equip­ment, he said.

The remains of more than 900 ser­vice­mem­bers killed in the Viet­nam War have been returned to their fam­i­lies since 1972. More than 1,700 remain unac­count­ed-for.

In the past year, the Joint Pris­on­ers of War and Miss­ing in Action Account­ing Com­mand has account­ed for 98 ser­vice­mem­bers miss­ing from the Kore­an War, Viet­nam War and World War II. More than 80,000 ser­vice­mem­bers from the three wars remain unac­count­ed-for. Near­ly 2,000 from the same wars have been account­ed for and returned to their fam­i­lies.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)