Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011, 8:30 AM Updated: Thursday, January 13, 2011, 12:28 PM
DALLAS — A graduate of Mattawan High School whose fighter plane was shot down over Laos in 1969 during the Vietnam War will be laid to rest on Friday.
Col. James E. Dennany Sr., who graduated from Mattawan High School in 1953, was a decorated Air Force major serving as a navigator on a Phantom F-4D fighter jet that was downed by anti-aircraft fire during a night-time attack on an enemy truck convoy.
Dennany, 34, a married father of seven children whose family was living in Brownsville, Texas, and the plane’s pilot, Capt. Robert L. Tucci, were listed as missing in action after their plane went down on Nov. 11, 1969.
Their status was changed to killed in action nine years later, but it wasn’t until 1999 that a joint team of United States and Laotian investigators found a crash site that was believed to be that of Dennany’s and Tucci’s plane.
Excavations of the site that took place during 2008 and 2009 turned up human remains, life-support items and aircraft pieces that continued to point toward the site of where the Americans’ plane went down.
Although positive identification couldn’t be made, the Air Force concluded largely through circumstantial evidence last August that the remains were those of Dennany and Tucci and that they had died on impact.
The remains were scheduled to be flown from Hawaii to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport early today and then be taken to the Laurel Oaks Funeral Home in Mesquite, Texas, to lie in state throughout the day.
A funeral procession was slated to go from the funeral home to Dallas/Fort Worth National Cemetery on Friday morning for a service that was to include a fly over, weather permitting, and a flag ceremony honoring both Dennany and Tucci.
Dennany’s son, James E. Dennany Jr., of Humble, Texas, near Houston, said he and at least three of his four sisters, all of whom still live in Texas, where Dennany met and married his wife, Emily, would be in attendance at Friday’s ceremony.
Dennany’s two other sons, Brian and Sean, died in 1983 and 1985, respectively, and Emily Dennany died of cancer in 2002.
Dennany, who also now has 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, still has cousins in the Kalamazoo area and elsewhere in Michigan, James Dennany Jr. said.
The senior Dennany was among 32 members of the class of 1953 at Mattawan High School, where he played varsity football and was a member of the student council.
He joined the military out of high school and qualified for officer’s training and to become a pilot, said Marie Lara, one of Dennany’s daughters.
While taking classes in Harlingen, Texas, Dennany met Emily Hon. They were married in August 1956 and began their family of seven children. Meanwhile, Dennany was being transferred to Riverside, Calif., K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base in Michigan, Laramie, Wyo., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1968 from the University of Wyoming, and Florida.
Dennany was then promoted to major and sent to Vietnam, Lara said. His promotion to colonel, and Tucci’s promotion from captain to major, occurred posthumously.
Just weeks before his fateful mission, Dennany had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery during earlier missions.
In 1986, several of Dennany’s former Mattawan classmates presented a plaque in his memory to the school board, which displayed it in the central hallway, alongside his senior class picture, of what was then the high school.
Current Mattawan High School Principal Colin Ripmaster said the plaque and picture are still on display there in what is now known as the district’s Center Building.
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