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Home at last: Airmen missing since 1965 are recovered and buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

12 July 2012



The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office recently identified and recovered the remains of six Airmen who died in a plane crash during the Vietnam War.

More than 45 years after their plane disappeared in Laos on Dec. 24, 1965, the men's remains were buried as a group in a single casket at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. 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; all received posthumous promotions.

On Christmas Eve 1965, the crew was aboard an AC-47D aircraft that failed to return from a combat strike mission in southern Laos. After a "mayday" signal was sent, all contact was lost with the crew. Following the crash, two days of search efforts for the aircraft and crew were unsuccessful.

In 1995, a joint U.S.-Lao People's Democratic Republic team investigated a crash site in Savannakhet Province, Laos. Local villagers recalled seeing a two-propeller aircraft, similar to an AC-47D, crash in December 1965. A local man found aircraft wreckage in a nearby field while farming and led the team to that location. The team recovered small pieces of aircraft wreckage and recommended further investigative visits.

Joint U.S.-L.P.D.R. investigation and recovery teams re-visited the site four times from 1999 to 2001. They conducted additional interviews with locals, recovered military equipment and began an excavation. No human remains were recovered, so the excavation was suspended pending additional investigation.

In 2010, joint U.S.-L.P.D.R. recovery teams excavated the crash site again and recovered human remains, personal items and military equipment. Three additional excavations in 2011 recovered additional human remains and evidence.

Scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command used dental records and circumstantial evidence in the identification of their remains.

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office currently lists more than 83,000 service members as missing in action. In 2011, the office identified the remains of 62 previously unaccounted-for service members.

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Date:Jul 1, 2012
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