Entries in Arlington National Cemetary (2)


Six Airmen Lost over Laos in 1965 Buried at Arlington

File photo. iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Six Air Force airmen killed in a 1965 plane crash in Laos during the Vietnam War were laid to rest Monday at Arlington National Cemetery, the culmination of a decades-long effort to find their remains, which were all interred in one casket.

The airmen were killed when their AC-47D “Spooky” gunship crashed on Christmas Eve, 1965, while on a combat mission over southern Laos.  A “mayday” signal was sent, but all contact was lost with the crew. Two days of search efforts for the plane and its crew proved unsuccessful.

Killed in the crash were 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.

Their remains would not be found for the next 45 years.  Today, they were interred with full military honors at Arlington National Ceremony before family members who finally got closure for their missing loved ones.

Jessica Pierno, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), said group burials are not uncommon for remains recovered from aircraft crashes, “given the state of remains when they’re recovered.”  In this case, Pierno said, investigators, “weren’t able to individually identify each member from the group, but we were able to determine that everyone from the group is represented in these remains.”

She notes that one member of the crew was individually identified from the remains found at the crash, Hassenger, who was buried on June 1 in Lebanon, Ore.  According to Pierno, Hassenger’s remains were also represented in Monday’s group burial.

video platform video management video solutions video player

In 1995, a joint U.S.-Laotian search team was led to the crash site by a local farmer who had found aircraft wreckage in a nearby field.  The site was recommended for follow-up visits, but no human remains were found in four subsequent visits between 1999 and 2001.

Additional searches at the crash site in 2010 and 2011 led to the recovery of human remains, personal items, and military equipment.  Scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command used dental records and circumstantial evidence to identify the remains of the six airmen, with the final identification made this past March.

Pierno called the identification of the six missing airmen “a huge victory,” but also noted how big the effort is to recover America’s missing service members.

“It’s really important to understand that this is an effort going on year round with recovery teams around the world looking for 83,000 missing from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Cold War,” she said. There are still 1,665 service members missing from the Vietnam War, 73,681 from World War II and 7,954 from the Korean War.

The recovery of the missing from the Vietnam War is made tougher with each passing day because of the acidic soil in Vietnam.

“The more acidic the soil, the more it can deteriorate the remains,” Pierno said. “The longer they are in the ground, the more they deteriorate and they’ll be harder to identify.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Arlington Grave Mix-Ups Draw Congressional Ire

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Nearly a year after the country was horrified to learn of major mistakes at Arlington National Cemetery, including graves marked incorrectly and misplaced remains, members of Congress are asking whom to hold accountable.

Bill Koch wants answers, too. Koch, a retired Air Force Colonel whose wife, Jean, is buried at Arlington, learned he had been visiting the wrong grave for more than four years. He told a House committee Thursday that the former managers at the nation's premier cemetery for its war dead "should be ashamed."

"There is a lot more than one unknown soldier" at Arlington, Koch said. That's how badly he said the cemetery has been managed.

The Army admits 18 grave sites have been marked incorrectly or left unmarked. Since last June when the scandal became known, the Army says it has examined 22,000 grave sites. There are more than 300,000 graves at Arlington. To complete the accounting of all graves, which must be completed by the end of the year, will cost $4.3 million, according to the Army.

The Secretary of Army did not appear at Thursday's hearing, which frustrated the chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va. He said the Army's effort to fix the problems at Arlington has been "unsatisfactory and is in no way commensurate with the service and sacrifice of our fallen warriors."

When word of the mistakes made news last June, Bill Koch decided to call Arlington to make sure the grave he had been visiting was indeed his wife's. He was told there was nothing to worry about. But a second phone call alerted him that there was a problem. It turned out his wife was actually buried in the grave next to the one he had visited. Her remains were moved, and a new headstone was put in place.

Former Arlington National Cemetery superintendent John Meltzer and his deputy Thurman Higgenbotham were criticized roundly by Col. Koch, who said the two men "got a slap on the wrist." He added, "Once they retired it was as if this whole incident never occurred."

Members of Congress accused the two former Arlington managers of squandering millions of dollars in an effort to digitize the cemetery's paper records. The Secretary of the Army admitted, "We expect to find more paperwork errors."

The Army says it is frustrated it couldn't do more about the two men. Karl Schneidner, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army, said when the two men retired, the Army's jurisdiction over them "evaporated."

The new executive director at Arlington, Kathryn Condon, told the committee that when she took over last June it as if she "moved into a house without a foundation."

"Now we are moving to do accountability," she said.

Republican Mike Coffman of Colorado wasn't buying it. He called the Arlington Cemetery leadership and its staff "rotten to its core. A culture of incompetence if not a culture of corruption." He wondered if the new leadership is up to the job.

"You don't get it," he said. "We need to honor these veterans."

The new leadership defended the staff, saying in the past there was "no guidance, no direction, no training" of the staff at the cemetery.

Rep. Wittman wondered whether the Army's Inspector General is taking Congress' concerns seriously since he did not attend the hearing.

"Our nation's heroes deserve better," Wittman said. "Today, this committee is demanding better."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio