Archive for ‘Airmen missing from Vietnam War’

August 31, 2014

A Pensacolian’s escape from Laos

A Pensacolian’s escape from Laos

Rob Johnson, Staff Writer | 3:49 p.m. CDT | August 30, 2014

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:

Former Vietnam War POW Charles Klusmann of Pensacola has an unusual story: first he was held in supposedly neutral Laos, and he successfully escaped his captors.

hf-charles klusmann 1.jpg

Former POW and escapee Charles Klusmann was honored by ex-combat aviators on the eve of National POW Month.  (Photo: Ben Twingley/

The National Naval Aviation Museum is preparing a new exhibit about Klusmann’s adventures to open in September, coinciding with National MIA-POW Recognition Day, traditionally the third Friday in November.

Klusmann, 80, and now a retired Navy captain living in Pensacola, was honored earlier this month by the local chapter of the Daedalians Order, a foundation of former military pilots.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Jerry Unruh toasted Klusmann at the Daedalians event, held at the Pensacola Yacht Club: “I will tell you about it before we raise our glasses. In 1964, Chuck was deployed to the Tonkin Gulf flying missions from the carrier in his F-8 Crusader into Vietnam.”

President Lyndon Johnson ordered the Navy to conduct secret missions into Laos, where guerrilla forces, the Pathet Lao, were fighting the Royal Laotian government forces, who were friendly to the United States even though their country, bordering Vietnam, was officially neutral.

On June 6, 1964, Klusmann’s Crusader, launched from the carrier Kitty Hawk, was hit by ground fire and he parachuted into enemy hands. He was his squadron’s maintenance officer, and as he floated down to the Plain De Jars, he remembers thinking, “That was our best airplane.”

He landed in “the only tree” in sight, and partially dislocated one hip.

In his prison cell he measured the length of the room as 20-something feet, “so I would figure out how many times I would have to walk across to go a mile, and put a mark on the wall. And that’s all I would do. Walk. By the time I got out I figured I had gone 263 miles.”

While as prisoner, his living conditions were stark, typical of those experienced by other POWs during the Vietnam war.

“I was in a woven bamboo hut, plastered with mud, so you could just chip away the mud and see outside. I would peek out through the cracks and see out and get some fresh air.”

Although he was provided food, including turnip soup, there wasn’t much of it. In three months, Klusmann said, his weight dropped to about 130 pounds from 170. “I never did like turnips. I still don’t.”

He hadn’t looked in a mirror while in captivity, and didn’t see himself in a full-length mirror for several days after escaping. “I was shocked. I thought, ‘Wow, you’re skinny.'”

Unlike many other American pilots who were shot down later, and eventually repatriated, Klusmann was in solitary confinement for the first two months and then in a prison camp accompanied by Royal Laotian Army troops who had been captured by the guerillas.

He had little to do but walk in his cell, and worry. “The thing that bothers you most is wondering, ‘When will I get out of this? Will I get out of this?'”

Yet Klusmann wasn’t subjected to the torture endured by many Americans who were in the hands of the Vietnamese. “I got a lot of political lectures. They gave me a lot of literature,” printed in English, “about what good guys they were.”

Much of what the Pathet Lao communicated was political indoctrination, Klusmann said: “Our system is better than your system.”

The Laotian communists surprised Klusmann with their knowledge about the American forces.”They knew a lot about the chain of command, and what ship I was on.” He learned that his captors had a confidential document about the U.S. Pacific command “right down to the squadrons.”

Klusmann escaped by gradually loosening nails in a section of the prison fence on the occasional days when he and the Laotian troops were allowed outside to do their laundry. “It was barbed wire nailed to a wooden post. When we came back with our laundry we’d hang it up to dry and wiggle a nail until it got loose enough so it would pull out and slide back in.”

On Aug. 31, 1964, a rainy night at the prison, Klusmann and two Laotian prisoners opened the fence and ran, unnoticed. “I didn’t hear of anybody me chasing that night. They did later.”

Crossing rice paddies and ducking into clumps of tall grass to hide, pulling numerous leeches off their bodies, the escapees evaded capture for 3½ days, traveling an estimated 25 miles before they encountered friendly Laotian forces at an outpost.

Klusmann flew again, but never returned to duty in Southeast Asia. He retired from the Navy as a captain in 1980. A grandfather of three, he retired with Ellen to Pensacola, where he went to flight school 59 years ago, in 1996.

Soon after his captivity, Klusmann led a humanitarian effort for Laos to raise funds to buy food, clothing and educational supplies, a gesture that still impresses retired Vice Adm. Unruh: “His contribution effort sent seven tons of stuff, primarily for the Laotian children.” He describes Klusmann as “a true American hero.”

At the Daedalians Order event honoring Klusmann earlier this month, the admiral turned to the former POW on the 50th anniversary of his reclaimed freedom, and said, “Chuck, please lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance.”


May 8, 2014

Tacoma Airmen killed in Laos 44 years ago finally home

Tacoma Airmen killed in Laos 44 years ago finally home

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:

Posted 5/7/2014   Updated 5/7/2014

Members of the McChord Field Honor Guard transfer the remains of Air Force Capt. Douglas D. Ferguson to an awaiting hearse May 1, 2014, at Seattle-Tacoma Airport in SeaTac, Wash. Ferguson, a native of Tacoma, Wash., had been missing since his airplane was shot down over Laos Dec. 30, 1969. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sean Tobin)

5/7/2014 – JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — After having been missing for more than 44 years, the remains of Air Force Capt. Douglas D. Ferguson, who was killed when his F-4D Phantom aircraft was shot down over Laos in 1969, returned home May, 1 in Lakewood, Wash.

Last year, members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command excavated the Dec. 30, 1969 crash site in Laos and found remains and artifacts they believed were those of Ferguson, a Tacoma native and 1963 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School.

Through DNA testing and a dental records match, JPAC officials were able to positively identify the remains as being Ferguson’s, said the captain’s sister, Sue Scott, who was notified of the DNA match last January.

“When I received word of the positive identification, I wanted to shout it from the rooftops,” said Scott. “We’ve been working on this for more than 40 years.”

Ferguson’s remains arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash., May 1. McChord Field Honor Guard members met the casket at the airplane and ceremoniously transferred it to the awaiting hearse.

A procession of vehicles, including Ferguson’s hearse, police vehicles from JBLM as well as state and local agencies, family members, and Patriot Guard Riders, left the SeaTac airport and headed to the Mountain View Funeral Home in Lakewood.

From a freeway overpass along the route, firefighters from JBLM and Central Pierce County, shadowed by a large U.S. flag draping down from the extended ladders of their fire engines, saluted the procession as it passed below them.

“That’s what makes me teary is that I feel like we are embraced by love,” Scott later said, referring to the firefighters on the procession route.

The following day, 627th Air Base Group Chaplain (Maj.) John Shipman held a funeral service for Ferguson at the McChord Theater. Hundreds of family members, former classmates of Ferguson, and members of JBLM attended the service. Col. Anthony Davit, 627th ABG commander, provided opening remarks.

“While I know that Captain Ferguson’s family has been waiting for his return for more than 44 years, I have been waiting for nearly 28,” Davit told those in attendance, referring to his time as a cadet in college where he always wore a POW/MIA patch on his flight suit. “I would often think about all the sacrifices those that came before me had made, and in many cases, may still be making. These thoughts guided my growing desire to serve and uphold the legacy of the great men and women that came before me.”

Scott reflected on all the people over the decades who have helped her brother return home, and those who came to show their support once he finally did come home.

“I am so grateful,” said Scott. “This is the best of who we are as Americans.”

Ferguson was buried with full military honors later that day at the funeral home in Lakewood, in a plot just a few feet from where his parents are buried.

“There have been ups and downs over the years for sure,” said Scott. “But the process has allowed me to meet the people who honor our country, not just with their service, but those who continue to give and give. That’s what blows me away.”


February 27, 2014

Leland Sorensen Heads Off to Laos

Leland Sorensen Heads Off to Laos

Reported by: Deanne Coffin
Published: 2/26 5:17 pm
Leland Sorensen (Deanne Coffin)

Leland Sorensen (Deanne Coffin)

Leland Sorensen was a Para-rescueman in the Vietnam War. On one of his missions he was sent to rescue a pilot that had gone down.  Because of the dangers of the war at that time, Leland was not able to recover the body of the airman, and that has been something that has been on his mind for all of these years.

“I have kind of regretted over the last 45 years that I didn’t take the time to actually recover the body, but at the time it was the end of the day and i didn’t know how hot the area was, and so I walked away from it,” says Leland Sorensen, Vietnam Vet.

Leland can finally put an end to that regret because he gets a second chance to go back to Laos and help with the rescue efforts of that pilot and complete the mission he started as a young Para-rescueman.

“I think what I am most excited about is there is potential here to put an end to this,” says Leland.

Leland says that the area where he will be going was one of the most heavily bombed sites on the planet and even today there are six digit numbers of cluster bomb units that could still be a potential problem.

“It possibly could be a dangerous mission,” added Leland.

Even with the risks till involved in this rescue mission, Leland says he doesn’t understand why people call him a hero.

“I’m not sure why I am a hero, but there are a lot of hero’s today that are not being pressured by a draft to join the military like I was, and yet they join and do a great job and I just want them to know that they are appreciated even by us old veterans,” concluded Leland.

Leland says he is ready to go on this final mission to Laos and  hopes that he can recognize the area and be able to direct them to the right spot, because after all, a lot can change in that amount of time.

We sent Leland off with a Go-Pro camera to capture his adventure while he is there and we will continue to follow Leland’s mission.

December 10, 2013

Remains of Missing U.S. Serviceman Found in Laos

Remains of Missing U.S. Serviceman Found in Laos

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:

American Forces Press Service

U.S. Air Force Col. Francis J. McGouldrick Jr.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2013 – The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced today that the remains of a serviceman, missing from the Vietnam War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

U.S. Air Force Col. Francis J. McGouldrick Jr. of New Haven, Conn., will be buried Dec. 13, at Arlington National Cemetery. On Dec. 13, 1968, McGouldrick was on a night strike mission when his B-57E Canberra aircraft collided with another aircraft over Savannakhet Province, Laos. McGouldrick was never seen again and was listed as missing in action.

After the war in July 1978, a military review board amended his official status from missing in action to presumed killed in action.

Between 1993 and 2004, joint U.S/Lao People’s Democratic Republic teams attempted to locate the crash site with no success. On April 8, 2007, a joint team located a possible crash site near the village of Keng Keuk, Laos.

From October 2011 to May 2012, joint U.S./L.P.D.R. teams excavated the site three times and recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage consistence with a B-57E aircraft.

In the identification of McGouldrick, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, such as mitochondrial DNA — which matched McGouldrick’s great nephew and niece.

Today there are 1,644 American service members that are still unaccounted-for from the Vietnam War.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO website or call 703 699-1169

Related Sites:

  1. Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office
  2. Airman Missing From Vietnam War Accounted For

Related News:

Body of New Haven Air Force colonel missing in Vietnam since ’68 identified

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:

Posted: 12/09/13, 4:10 PM EST |

A New Haven Air Force colonel, missing from the Vietnam War, has been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors, the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced Monday.

U.S. Air Force Col. Francis J. McGouldrick Jr. will be buried Dec. 13 at Arlington National Cemetery, the DOD said in a release. McGouldrick was 39 on Dec. 13, 1968, when he was on a night strike mission and his B-57E Canberra aircraft collided with another aircraft over Savannakhet Province, Laos, the release said.

McGouldrick was never seen again and was listed as missing in action.

In July 1978, a military review board amended McGouldrick’s official status from “missing in action to presumed killed in action,” the release said.

“Between 1993 and 2004, joint U.S/Lao People’s Democratic Republic teams attempted to locate the crash site with no success. On April 8, 2007, a joint team located a possible crash site near the village of Keng Keuk, Laos,” the release said. “From October 2011 to May 2012, joint U.S./L.P.D.R. teams excavated the site three times and recovered human remains and aircraft wreckage consistence with a B-57E aircraft.”

Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command scientists and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory “used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, such as mitochondrial DNA – which matched McGouldrick’s great nephew and niece,” to identify McGouldrick, the release said.

There remain 1,644 American service members still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, the DOD said.

May 29, 2013

Thank You For Your Serviced: Lost plane’s crew returns from Laos — 48 years later

Tuesday, May. 28, 2013

Lost plane’s crew returns from Laos — 48 years later

Click on the link to get more news and video from original source:


Sun-Star Washington Bureau

The single casket holding the remains of six airmen in Spooky 21 shot down over Laos is brought in on a caisson by the Air Force Honor Guard, July 9, 2012 at Arlington Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia. The men were lost December 24, 1965, and their remains were finally recovered in 2010 and 2011. They were buried with full military honors at Arlington. (Andre Chung/MCT)

ARLINGTON, Va. Nearly half a century passed before the suspected remains of six airmen made the journey from a rice paddy in southeastern Laos to a forensics lab near Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

But once those remains arrived, the experts preparing to study and identify them knew that at best the men were only halfway home.

Getting them all the way would be a challenge.

The crew had vanished on Christmas Eve 1965, when their U.S. cargo plane-turned-gunship, call sign Spooky 21, apparently had been shot from the sky during a mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It took searchers decades to find what they believed to be wreckage from the plane.

And after a decade of excavations in a rice paddy tucked between steep Laotian hillsides, recovery teams had come away with a small amount of debris that they hoped were bones. But even if they were, they had no way of knowing if the bones belonged to the crew members, or even if they were human.

And what they found wasn’t much.

Take two hands, cup them together, and then fill them with dry, blackened chips and slivers of material. That’s what investigators had left to study after the lab run by the military’s Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command sifted through the debris and figured out that some of it was rock and wood.

Only one piece in that small pile of material looked vaguely human — a single, broken tooth.

Sherrie Hassenger poses with a picture of her husband, Arden Hassenger, in her home in Lebanon, Oregon, May 21, 2013. Arden was killed when his aircraft crashed in Laos while conducting operations in support of the Vietnam War. Hassenger says she’s never really gotten over the loss of her love. (Ethan E. Rocke/MCT) Ethan E. Rocke / MCT

Forensic anthropologist Robert Maves was running the investigation of the materials once they arrived in Hawaii. Maves, 52, is a serious man. At JPAC for 18 years, he speaks about reuniting missing service members with their families as a moral obligation.

Frequently when remains arrive, lab workers have more to go on than what the suspected Spooky 21 evidence offered. A full skeleton might be rare; entire bones are not.

But this was not a Hollywood-style forensic cop show where the mystery is solved inside an hour, between commercials. To the casual eye, a handful of bone chips wouldn’t even look like bone chips, especially if they’d been in a fire and were discolored.

The first chore was to identify what they might be. While not ideal, bone chips have helped to identify other lost service members. Even small ones have meaning.

Maves’ team determined that these were, indeed, bone chips. They were identified as “post-cranial”; they came from the back of a skull. It was a small victory because they could move on to the second stage of the investigation: Whose skull? “It was time to check to see if we could pull DNA,” Maves recalled.

Final crew

The crew on Spooky 21’s flight had been promoted, several times, since it vanished 48 years ago. By the time it reached Arlington, that crew consisted of Col. Derrell Jeffords, pilot, 40, of Florence, S.C.; Col. Joseph Christiano, navigator, 43, of Rochester, N.Y.; Lt. Col. Dennis L. Eilers, co-pilot, 27, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Chief Master Sgts. William K. Colwell, 44, of Glen Cove, N.Y.; Arden K. Hassenger, 32, of Lebanon, Ore.; and Larry C. Thornton, 33, of Idaho Falls, Idaho.

The military had been looking for the crew from Spooky 21 since it disappeared. Jeffrey Christiano had been waiting his entire life.

Now 49, but only 2 when his father left for South Vietnam, he’d chased his father’s ghost throughout his childhood. He married at age 22, seeking what he’d longed for since his father vanished, but it didn’t last.

“I just wanted to be intact,” he said. “I’d felt a hole in my childhood. I kept trying, and failing, to fill it. I just really wanted my dad.” Knowing there were many relatives with similar tales, Maves never let himself forget just how high the stakes were.

Spooky 21 vanished two decades before the first DNA “fingerprinting.” By the time the remains arrived in Hawaii, DNA testing had become a routine identification tool. But when the crew disappeared, the concept had been so new. It had only been 12 years since James Watson and Francis Crick told the world what DNA looked like; essentially, a spiral staircase.

The surest identification is made when separate samples of a person’s DNA are compared with each other. But the military didn’t have DNA samples of the Spooky 21 crew. The next best thing is to test the DNA of a person’s children, as they have the greatest genetic chance of carrying the same traits.

Maves’ team arranged for the necessary cheek swabs as it prepared to try to extract DNA from the bone chips. But a big obstacle loomed.

“The report from the field was that the plane was smoking as it fell to earth,” Maves said. “And we could see the chips had been subjected to flames. The evidence of fire was troubling.”

DNA doesn’t normally survive heat more intense than 600 degrees. As the lab tried to recover DNA from the chips, “we estimated the fire to have burned at more than 1,000 degrees,” Maves said.

Still, they had to pursue every option. But it turned out to be fruitless.

The official entry in the Spooky 21 case file stated: “No DNA possible due to size and conditions.” Without DNA, the JPAC identification team was down to one final shot at identifying at least one crew member: the broken tooth.

Maves had the dental X-rays for each member of the crew. But his job suddenly became easier when he realized that he didn’t have to bother comparing the records for five of them, because one crew member was missing his first left upper molar and four others had fillings in theirs.

Only one showed an intact left upper first molar: Hassenger.

The next step was obvious. They needed to make an X-ray of the broken tooth to try to match it against the exact angles of the molar in Hassenger’s dental records.

On Sept. 22, 2011, they compared them. The match was perfect, in the way that any two maps of the same piece of geography would match.

And that was it.

After 46 years of loss and searching, this was success. Hassenger, at least, finally had come home.

“The available evidence suggests that Col. Derrell Jeffords and his five member crew died on 24 December, 1965 when their AC-47 gunship crashed in Savannakhet Province, Laos,” military records state.

But there was one important task to complete before the U.S. military had truly brought the Spooky 21 crew home.

Closure at last

The morning of July 9, 2012, is overcast.

The white headstones in Arlington National Cemetery seem to march off into the mist in every direction from plot number 10047. This will be one of 24 burials on this summer’s day at the national military cemetery. The plot, 7 feet by 3 feet, has been dug 8 feet deep.

About 168 square feet of dirt has been removed to make room for the remains of six men, which will share a single silver casket. What was found two years ago, almost half a century after they had vanished, would barely fill a coffee mug.

The caisson crests the hill near the gravesite in a light rain, as the Air Force Band plays “Going Home,” a piece based on Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” Six airmen walk beside the casket; behind them, 18 family members: two wives, 15 children and one niece. They will receive American flags, folded into tight triangles.

MIAs no more

Jeanne Jeffords, wife of Derrell Jeffords, later would sum up her feelings in a note to friends: “Those 6 wonderful men are no longer MIA (missing in action), they are finally home.”

Even now, Jeffrey Christiano said that Christmas Eve, the date his father and the others disappeared so long ago, remains a tough but vital time. His mom always made an extra effort to make sure the kids didn’t dwell in sorrow on what for many is the happiest night of the year. He thinks that effort drew his family even tighter.

Now he and his siblings keep that same spirit alive.

Christiano also said that he learned something at the burial that he hadn’t expected.

“My earliest memory of my father is clinging to the door frame and shouting, ‘Daddy, don’t go!’ as he deployed to Vietnam,” Christiano said. “But really, I don’t know if those are my memories, or the way my mind interprets what I’ve been told time and again by others about how I reacted as he left that day.

“See, the thing is, my brothers and sisters, they were older. They knew my dad. They knew what he smelled like, what he looked like. They knew what made him smile and what made him angry. They knew him. I didn’t, or at least I don’t remember knowing him. So people ask me if the burial was finally closure for me, if it helped me put an end to the story of me and my dad.

“But that’s not it. July 9, 2012, was the day we finally met, really. It wasn’t closure. After 47 years, it was the beginning of my story with my dad.”



The State-May 26, 2013 25, 2013
remains of Olson’s crew, lost in the wreck of a spy plane over Laos. … of its plans to travel to Laos and return with remains the Air Force had
<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: