Laos 1965 plane crash airmen to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) - It was Christmas Eve 1965 when the Air Force plane nicknamed "Spooky" took off from Vietnam for a combat mission. The crew sent out a "mayday" signal while flying over Laos, and after that, all contact was lost.
Two days of searches turned up nothing. For years, that was all the families knew about what happened to the six servicemen aboard the plane.
Now, nearly 50 years after the AC-47D went down, a measure of finality comes Monday: Remains from the six men will be buried with full military honors in a single casket at Arlington National Cemetery.
The burial comes after the recovery of remains in 2010 and 2011 by joint U.S.-Laotian search teams.
Examiners relied on dental records, personal items recovered from the site and circumstantial evidence to conclude that the recovered remains are representative of all six Air Force servicemen: Col. Joseph Christiano of Rochester, N.Y.; Col. Derrell B. Jeffords of Florence, S.C.; Lt. Col. Dennis L. Eilers of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Chief Master Sgt. William K. Colwell of Glen Cove, N.Y.; Chief Master Sgt. Arden K. Hassenger of Lebanon, Ore.; and Chief Master Sgt. Larry C. Thornton of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
The Air Force gave all six posthumous promotions, a military spokeswoman said. Dribs and drabs of information came in over the years, and some family members heard rumors that loved ones had been seen alive.
But mostly it was the passage of time that led relatives to conclude their loved ones had perished.
"The sad part about our situation is for seven years, we hoped he was alive," said Jeanne Jeffords, 86, of Temecula, Calif., whose husband, Derrell, was on board.
Their son, Terry, was 16 years old when Jeffords died and their daughter, Deryl, was 13. "We hoped he was a prisoner.
Seven years later, they released all the prisoners. The Air Force called me at 3 a.m. one morning and said, 'We're sorry to tell you, but your husband is not among the prisoners.'"
Ron Thornton, who now lives in Bozeman, Mont., remembered reacting to news his father's plane had gone missing with the optimism of the sixth-grader he was in 1965: At some point, he was just sure his father would come walking out of the jungle and back into his family's arms.
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