Missing U.S. airmen from '65 crash finally buried
The service drew hundreds of people, including Air Force and Vietnam veterans unrelated to the families.
Curtis Eilers, who was 3 when his father died, admitted he was taken aback that so many people have been interested in his father's story and attended Monday's service. Many strangers also attended a service for his father in Iowa.
"I didn't know that anybody else would be interested," he said. "I never thought of my dad as a hero."
He said he was impressed by the efforts to identify the crew members.
The first joint U.S.-Laotian team didn't visit the crash site until 1995 in the southern province of Savannahket, which was heavily bombed during the war as it lay on the Ho Chi Minh supply route that supplied Vietcong communist guerrillas in southern Vietnam. A villager recalled seeing a two-propeller aircraft crash near the village. A second villager had found wreckage of it and took the team to the crash site.
Follow-up teams revisited the site four times between 1999 and 2001 and recovered military equipment but no human remains, and excavation was suspended.
Excavations resumed in 2010 and 2011, when human remains and personal items from the crew were found.
It is not uncommon in situations like these for joint sets of remains to buried at Arlington. The Pentagon's Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office lists more than 83,000 service members as missing in action, the vast majority from World War II. In 2011, the office identified the remains of 62 service members previously unaccounted for.
Jeffrey Christiano of Rochester, N.Y., who was only 2 when his father's plane went down, said Monday's burial brings his father home and resolves "this nagging, disjointed feeling that he's not where he belongs."
He said he has struggled to understand his own emotions in the months since learning that his father's remains had been found and would be buried at Arlington.
"Most people learn about their father by experiencing them. I had to consciously make the effort to put the picture of my father together myself," he said, and in many ways he put that picture together through the lens of the decades-long search to discover what happened. Now that the search is finally over, he said, "today's the day he dies, for me."
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